Hillsborough extends mask mandate, but shifts burden from business owners to customers

The Emergency Policy Group in Hillsborough County voted to extend the face-covering order Monday, but shifted some of the penalties for non-compliance to individuals, rather than businesses.

The group agreed Monday to some new language for the order. Employees must still wear masks inside any business where they cannot socially distance and business operators must still post signs and make announcements about customers' requirements to wear masks under the same circumstances. But as long as the businesses do that, they will not be penalized if a customer does not cooperate.

Instead, the customer could individually be subject to a civil citation and a $150 fine.

Law enforcement and code enforcement are both authorized to enforce the measure.

The group first approved the mandate on June 22 to make face coverings a requirement inside most businesses across the county as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. At that time, the order put the burden on business operators to make sure their customers were using face coverings and they risked fines or jail time if they did not comply.

Since then, several businesses have filed lawsuits against the county, and several EPG members expressed concerns over that part of the order. 

PREVIOUS: Attorney files lawsuit over Hillsborough County mask-mandate

During last week's meeting, Plant City mayor Rick Lott, Temple Terrace vice-mayor Andy Ross, and school board chair Melissa Snively wanted to “soften” the potential penalties on business who were not complying.

“I feel like it’s an individual responsibility to wear the mask, not the responsibility of businesses,” Snively said at the time.

RELATED: List of mandatory mask orders in the Tampa Bay area

The EPG also discussed the effect of the order on concealed weapons carriers after some confusion about the laws regarding masks and concealed-carry permits.

"We have a lot of concealed weapon permit-holders in Hillsborough County and part of their mandate and requirement is they are prohibited from wearing any type of face coverings," said Sheriff Chad Chronister.

"We are not intending to be in conflict of that aspect of state law," county attorney Christine Beck said, agreeing to take a closer look at the law.

After the meeting, the county confirmed that state law does not, in fact, prohibit permit-holders from wearing masks.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that the group voted to add an amendment to exempt concealed-carry permit-holders from the order to wear a mask. That is not correct and this version of the story has been updated.