After a lengthy public hearing, the Amarillo City Council voted 4-1 to pass an ordinance providing stricter penalties for businesses not enforcing mask wearing and social distancing.

During a special meeting held on Monday morning, the city council gave the proposed ordinance a favorable vote, despite plenty of opposition to the ordinance during the public hearing. Amarillo City Councilman Howard Smith, who voted in favor of the ordinance, compared the measure to enforcing speed limits.

“Some people have said to me that this is infringing on their freedoms,” Smith said. “I would point out [there are] several freedoms that are limited. For instance, we have speed limits. If you’ve got a 30 mile-per-hour speed limit and you’re going 45, you may be getting a ticket or get a warning. … That, in a way, is infringing upon things, but it’s needed because it supports the public.”

City Councilwoman Elaine Hays cast the lone vote against the ordinance. While discussing with Mayor Ginger Nelson and other members of the council, Hays said she opposed the ordinance, calling it “potentially illegal.”

“I have to state clearly: I feel it is unconstitutional, potentially illegal, and an unfair transfer of burden to our small businesses,” Hays said prior to the vote.

Under the new ordinance, local businesses who are not enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate or social distancing rules could face fines if the violations are seen by officials from Amarillo’s environmental health department. A first violation of the ordinance will result in a notice of violation, while a second violation will result in a fine of up to $2,000. 

City Manager Jared Miller said last week that the ordinance was written to “give some teeth” to Abbott’s mask mandate.

A full copy of the ordinance is available to view here.

Thomas Warren

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

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