Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy put restaurants on notice Thursday. He said just because the town has not issued any fines related to its mask mandate does not mean it won’t. Murphy believes the town’s mask mandate is valid and fines can be issued and he specifically called out restaurants.
Murphy believes there’s a lot of confusion on the beach about the mask portion of the town’s emergency declaration following the Governor’s September 25th Executive Order. “People seem to think that because the Governor passed his declaration, that negated individual mask ordinances throughout the state at the municipal levels. It has not. That means that our ordinance is still in effect to this day.”
Back on September 25th the Governor issued an Executive Order essentially canceling any fines that were imposed on individuals for violating mask mandates or social distancing rules.
Murphy says residents and businesses on Fort Myers Beach can still be fined. “The other part of this is people are saying that the Governor is saying that you don’t have to pay these fines anymore. Our attorney informed us that yes, the fines that were levied at that time, up to that date, were forgiven by the Governor, but that didn’t mean going forward as was explained to us by our attorney.”
Section 4 of DeSantis’ Phase 3 Executive Order says that “the collection of all fines and penalties throughout the state associated with COVID-19 enforced upon individuals are suspended.” The order does not say that only previously issued fines are suspended.
Although the town ordinance covers all businesses, Murphy signaled out restaurants at the town council meeting Thursday, issuing this warning. “I’ve been informed by various people throughout the town that there are certain restaurants who’s staff have stopped wearing the masks. They are in violation of our ordinance. Clear and simple. That’s all there is to it. Plus it’s bad business for them. Word gets out on the island that so-and-so is not wearing masks anymore, guess what, people stop going there. They are afraid of what could happen.”
Town attorney John Herin backed the Mayor up. “Your emergency declarations are still in effect. They have not been superceded by the Governor’s Executive Order. It is a valid and enforceable order.
Councilman Bill Veach said it makes good business sense to be overtly safe during these times.
Murphy went on to say, “Because we have not levied any fines doesn’t mean that we can’t. If people say that it’s a toothless ordinance or it’s a paper lion, it’s not. The penalties are there and can be levied by the town.”
The town has not written any tickets since passing the mask mandate. Code Enforcement officers do have the power to write tickets but they must ask you for your ID which you can refuse to give them (that information comes directly from the town). Lee County Sheriff’s deputies can also write tickets for the mask ordinance, however, Lee County has taken the education approach rather than imposing mandates.