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Lawsuit asserts mask ordinance violates privacy rights

The county surrounding the state’s capital city is the latest jurisdiction to mandate face masks for indoor public places, but a lawsuit is already planned that could set a precedent for challenging similar orders around the state.
The county surrounding the state’s capital city is the latest jurisdiction to mandate face masks for indoor public places, but a lawsuit is already planned that could set a precedent for challenging similar orders around the state. (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The county surrounding the state’s capital city is the latest jurisdiction to mandate face masks for indoor public places, but a lawsuit is already planned that could set a precedent for challenging similar orders around the state.

Starting at midnight Thursday, people entering businesses in the state’s capital will be required to wear a face mask or face fines between $50 and $250.

Assistant constitutional law professor Michael Morley at Florida State University believes the policy is in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedents.

“These are all within the traditionally accepted scope of state authority,” Morley said.

But Leon County Republican Party Chair Evan Power said the lawsuit he intends to file will make a privacy argument because the ordinance exempts people with certain health issues from wearing a mask.

“You’re going to start questioning whether people have disabilities or not have disabilities and it opens that privacy part up,” Power said.

Florida does have heightened privacy protections embedded in the state Constitution, but Morley is skeptical a court would strike the ordinance down.

“Given that we’re dealing with an infectious disease, measures to try to stop its spread would likely survive any type of state constitutional challenge,” Morley said.

If successful, the suit filed in Leon County could be used as a blueprint for challenging similar ordinances across the state.

But Dr. Ron Saff, who has advocated for a statewide mask mandate on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility, hopes that isn’t the case.

“They’re saying that their right not to wear a mask is more important than someone’s right to not catch a potentially fatal disease,” Saff said.

Unclear is whether the ordinance passed by the county will apply to the grounds of the state Capitol.

The governor does not typically wear a mask during news briefings at the Capitol and has consistently rejected the idea of issuing a statewide mask order amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns over equal enforcement.

A press contact for the governor told Capitol News Service staff will review the ordinance once it’s published.