COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Three members of Columbia City Council told WIS they expect the city to pass an ordinance Tuesday that would require face coverings to be worn in public.
A draft of the ordinance reviewed by WIS would require anyone over the age of 10 within city limits to wear a face mask inside a building open to the public while waiting outside public buildings, while outdoors if social distancing isn't possible and on public or private transportation.
People would also be required to wear a mask when engaging in business activities even if the space is private. For example, shopping at a clothing store or at a supermarket.
The ordinance does have exceptions for eating or drinking, outdoor activity when social distancing is possible, in personal cars, if someone is just surrounded by other members of his/her household, and or if wearing a face mask causes a health problem.
According to the draft, if people do not follow the ordinance it will be considered a misdemeanor offense. Councilman at-large Howard Duvall says if people don't wear a mask they could face a penalty of up to a $500 fine and or 30 days in jail.
"We are not doing this as a punitive enforcement, we are doing this a public health issue...we have ordinances on the book like seat belts, jaywalking, and spitting on the sidewalk that gets very few tickets within the year, but are all there for your public health," Duvall said.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said she believes it will be enforced similar to how the 11 p.m. curfew was kept and says law enforcement will be giving warnings but will issue penalties if people fail to comply.
Both Devine and Duvall said the ordinance may pass unanimously, but they were unsure if any member’s opinions would be swayed leading up to Tuesday’s 2 p.m. vote.
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Devine says the main criticism she has heard about the ordinance is that it infringes on individual rights, but she emphasized this new rule would be in order to protect public safety. Devine also hopes this can prevent the need for another shutdown of non-essential businesses in the city. WIS reached out to all council members via their publicly available contacts for comment.
"This is a public health issue, it's not a political issue," Duvall said.
Duvall and Devine also don't anticipate challenges from the Attorney General's office as was seen when the council passed a stay-at-home order.
"If a city passes any ordinance that a citizen thinks is unconstitutional or unlawful, it would be up to that citizen or some other person or group with standing to challenge the ordinance in court, so the court case would be that person and their attorney versus the city and its attorneys," wrote Robert Kittle the Communications Director for the S.C. office of the Attorney General
However, Duvall did say he would rather the state act before municipalities needed to create an ordinance.
“We would as a council would much prefer that Governor Henry McMaster step up and make this a requirement statewide. It would be much more effective and help a lot more people if the Governor would accept the responsibility of public health and wear a mask,” said Duvall.
Devine said she’s been hearing from other city council members from around the state and thinks other cities may make moves to follow in Columbia’s footsteps.
"if we do it that gives some folks some teeth for their colleagues to do so," Devine said.
Councilmember Sam Davis said the recent spike in cases has added to the council's sense of urgency to act.
"The numbers in South Carolina show the need for us to take this pandemic seriously," said Davis.
If anyone does not own a mask, council members say they can call the City of Columbia to refer them to the right place to get one. Mayor Benjamin said law enforcement will carry masks for the public if anyone needs one.
The Columbia City Council will have more details Tuesday on other places to get a mask.