TAMPA, Fla. - Before the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group passed an order mandating face coverings in most public, indoor places, they discussed, at length, who would enforce the new rules and how.
Ultimately, the EPG ruled that the job of enforcement will fall on business operators. While individuals not wearing masks when required won't face citations, a business that allows the behavior could be charged.
EPG members voted 5-3 on Monday to require the wearing of face coverings, with certain exceptions, inside businesses that are open to the public and where employees and customers aren't able to maintain social distancing. The order is effective immediately, with the exception of the enforcement provisions which go into effect at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24.
The city of Tampa enacted its own executive order last Friday. As of Monday, the city reports that no citations have been issued, as they work to educate.
"We've had less than a dozen calls to law enforcement about this so it is not overwhelming law enforcement here in the city of Tampa," said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister argued that enforcement of a county order ought to be in the hands of rapid response teams that go into ZIP codes with the greatest need, educating, providing PPE supplies and encouraging adherence.
"If we make facial coverings a law, it will overburden and place local law enforcement in a compromising position to enforce," Chronister said. "Has anyone considered the secondary effects for our state attorney, public defender and judiciary who will have to prosecute, defend and dispose of these cases?"
Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross agreed that law enforcement should not be tasked with compliance. "I can not charge our police with becoming the mask police," Ross said.
He suggested keeping officers largely out of it and, instead, tasking for-profit "business operators" with enforcement.
"If someone calls the police and complains about someone shopping in aisle eight without a mask, the police response is, 'you need to go talk to the store manager'," Ross said.
While individuals not wearing masks indoors would not be punished, business operators not enforcing the order could face second-degree misdemeanors.
"I don't want to put business owners, the thousands of business owners in our county, in that situation where they may have to turn away business and risk losing revenue," said Hillsborough School Board Chairwoman Melissa Snively. "I think it puts undue strain on business owners that have already been through undue strain through this pandemic."
"You're going to have one or two businesses out there that don't give a damn. They're going to be the ones that get the citation," countered Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller.
After the motion passed, word spread to the future "mask enforcers" -- the businesses.
"Do you turn away a potentially loyal customer over the issue or do you let them shop?" wondered Joseph Zamrin, partner at Redneck Wine Company in Tampa.
That's a question his and other businesses had to consider prior to the county order. "It's a difficult situation for the business," Zamrin.
Now, with their own compliance on the line, Zamrin believes customers are more likely to mask up, knowing it helps the business out.
"It might make it easier to force compliance because we could post a note saying the county is saying they are going to impact our business if you don't help us," Zamrin said.
Business operators found in violation of the order could face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. This order does not apply to religious services, non-profit organizations, private clubs and government agencies.