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Commissioner seeks face-covering ordinance for Hillsborough County

The move comes after the emergency policy group panned the proposal.
Bailee Johnson assembles meals at Poppo's Taqueria while wearing face masks on May 8 in St. Petersburg. Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman is proposing an ordinance in Hillsborough to allow people to wear face coverings in private settings.
Bailee Johnson assembles meals at Poppo's Taqueria while wearing face masks on May 8 in St. Petersburg. Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman is proposing an ordinance in Hillsborough to allow people to wear face coverings in private settings. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 15, 2020|Updated Jun. 15, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman wants the public to be able to wear facial coverings in private settings.

And now she wants the county commission to consider the idea after she couldn’t get sufficient support for it from the eight-member Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group of elected county, municipal and school board leaders.

That group panned Overman’s proposed temporary order earlier this month, voting 5-3 to kill it. Only Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. joined Overman to support it.

On Wednesday, Overman will ask her fellow commissioners to direct the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance for future consideration by the commission.

“It is to adopt the previous recommendation,’’ Overman said Monday morning. “To allow our citizens the right to protect themselves without being impeded. If someone wants to wear a face covering to protect themselves and to protect others, they should have the right to do so.’’

Related: Corona cases agaiin on the rise in Hillsborough County

Overman has said the proposed policy is in answer to constituents who told her their places of employment frowned on workers wearing facial coverings. The proposal would allow the workers to do so without reprisal. She told the emergency policy group during its June 4 debate that she feared some people could lose their jobs if they insisted on protecting themselves.

“I don’t want to condone that kind of outcome and that’s why I brought this forward,’’ she said. “It is only as a result to a response to a public health emergency. It is not a permanent order.’’

Health officials have said practicing social distancing of staying at least 6 feet apart, wearing a face covering, avoiding large groups particularly in confined spaces and frequent hand washing are ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Three-quarters of the more than 3,600 cases in Hillsborough County are among people age 15 to 64 and nearly 21 percent of the cases are people 25 to 34 years old.

The emergency policy group members have fretted over the recent increase in cases among working-age people, but said they wouldn’t back Overman’s proposal. In April, the group failed to vote on Castor’s more strict proposal to mandate facial coverings while in public.

“Maybe it’s my legislative training, but interfering in that relationship between employer and employee really starts to tread on thin ice,’’ Commissioner Sandra Murman said June 4. “We’ve still got to educate people to wear a mask and that is the bottom line.’’

Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross said the emergency policy group was the wrong venue to consider Overman’s proposal. He said a local ordinance, with advertised public hearings, would be a more appropriate way to advance the measure.

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Overman took the advice to heart, and is asking the rest of the commission to schedule a special meeting June 25 to consider her proposal and to schedule a public hearing for July 15.

“All it says, if you choose to, you have a right to wear a face covering. It’s not a mandate,’’ Overman told the emergency policy group. on June 4. “A ‘no’ vote will signal to your constituents that you do not value the rights of the residents to protect their health.’'

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