Amarillo businesses that are not enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate may soon be subjected to stricter penalties thanks to a proposed ordinance being considered by the Amarillo City Council.

On Friday, the city council will host a special meeting to consider passing an ordinance that would allow city staff to “[declare] a site that fails to meet certain minimum standards designed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 as a public nuisance.”

During the city council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller said that under the ordinance, officials from Amarillo’s environmental health department would be watching local businesses for violations of the mask mandate and other violations related to social distancing, limited public gatherings, and sanitation measures. Under the ordinance, local businesses would receive a notice of violation for a first violation, followed by a citation for a second violation. Citations will carry fines of up to $2,000.

During the meeting, Miller said he does not view the proposed ordinance as a burden on local businesses, but rather as a tool to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is an effort to make sure they are taking care of their patrons,” Miller said.

Additionally, Miller said the ordinance would “give some teeth” to Gov. Abbott’s order related to masks.

“The purpose of this is to give some teeth to the governor’s order,” Miller said. “The Texas Health and Safety guidelines do provide those measures, but this makes very clear that COVID-19 is one of the conditions that we’re trying to protect against. And I think we can all agree there’s nothing more significant that we’re trying protect against right now than coronavirus.”

While most members of the city council seemed to be in agreement with the ordinance on Tuesday, Councilwoman Elaine Hays expressed opposition, citing troubling financial conditions for local businesses.

“I don’t feel this is a healthy response and supportive of our businesses,” Hays said.

But even if the city council passes the ordinance, local businesses would not be without support. Amarillo criminal defense attorney Steven Denny announced on Wednesday his plans to provide pro-bono legal services to any business fined for violating the proposed Amarillo mask ordinance.

“I have spent a great deal of my career protecting citizens against government overreach,” Denny said. “Business owners are suffering enough, and those that wish to enforce the mask order may already do so. To me, this is just another tax imposed by the city that wasn’t voted on by the citizens.”

Citizens who have questions or concerns about this ordinance can contact their elected officials here.

Thomas Warren

Thomas Warren, III is the editor-in-chief of the Amarillo Pioneer newspaper in Amarillo, Texas.