Q&A – Can Local Governments Make Masks Mandatory?

Today’s entry: Hi Brian, I don’t mind wearing a face mask but just wondering, can governors order that requirement. Shouldn’t it be a law passed by the state legislature, which would be absolutely wild anyway?

Bottom Line: As more of South Florida reopens, and as more of us begin to engage the outside world more than we have since prior to the pandemic, these types of questions continue to surface. Many local governments have required masks in certain indoor spaces. Many businesses and hospitals are requiring them independent of government mandates. I broadly addressed this question a couple of weeks ago, but it’s worth revisiting with additional information we’ve learned since my previous reporting. First, on the subject of the mask mandates. You’re right that legislative approval is needed for imposed government mandates. The thing is our legislators have already granted this authority. 

Yes, state and local governments in Florida are able to impose masks and related mandates. The broad authority has been granted by Florida’s legislature to our state’s governor and mayors during times of declared emergencies. The law states, "The Governor is responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and its people by emergencies. In the event of an emergency beyond local control, the Governor may assume direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions within this state, and she or he shall have the power through proper process of law to carry out the provisions of this section. Pursuant to the authority vested in her or him the Governor may issue executive orders, proclamations, and rules and may amend or rescind them. Such executive orders, proclamations, and rules shall have the force and effect of law."

It’s the final line that’s critical. If there’s a declared emergency, essentially any regulations or mandates issued by the Governor are law during the effective period of the emergency. Local county and municipal ordinances are based on the state’s law as well granting mayors the same authority over their jurisdiction. If we feel the authority is too broad, we need to petition our legislators to change the law and attempt to convince the governor it’s in our interest to limit his authority. Across the country you’ve seen legal challenges to lockdown orders with state Supreme Courts striking down orders in Wisconsin and Oregon. That’s led many to wonder if the same would be possible in Florida. What’s different is the law in each state. Because Florida’s law grants explicit, broad authority to executives during declared emergencies, it’s unlikely legal challenges would be successful.

Independent of government mandates, current research shows the use of masks in closed public spaces is the most effective way to combat the spread of COVID-19. While protecting freedom and liberties granted by the Constitution will always be paramount to any specific issue, you can take solace in the mask policy at least being good policy from a public policy standpoint. It stands in contrast to the extent of the lockdowns.

Submit your questions using one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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