Indoor mask mandate approved by Milwaukee Common Council

NOW: Indoor mask mandate approved by Milwaukee Common Council

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday, Jan. 18, voted to require anyone over the age of three to wear a mask inside businesses citywide. 

The mandate is in effect until March 1, 2022. 

"Our stance has not changed. People should absolutely be masked indoors in public," said Commissioner of Health Kirsten Johnson. "I think this ordinance just makes that official."

The ordinance passed by a vote of 12 to 1. District 11 Alderman Mark Borkowski voted against the mandate.

"From my heart, I totally understand where people are coming from. But I go back to my district, which I abut West Allis and Greenfield, where literally a block, or a street rather, is the difference between Milwaukee or West Allis or Milwaukee or a Greenfield," Alderman Borkowski said. "Let's not kid ourselves, it's a paper tiger. I'm not going to be part of this because it just does not make sense to me and I apologize because I just, I'm not going to be able to explain it to my constituents. I'm sorry."

District 13's Aldermen Scott Spiker chose to abstain.

"I can't support it," Aldermen Spiker said, citing concerns from businesses in his district regarding mandate enforcement. "I'll abstain, though, just because I do sincerely appreciate the efforts of the sponsors to address some of these concerns."

The ordinance does not have language for tickets or citations for businesses that don't comply. Instead, the health department may contact owners or operators if complaints are received. A number of complaints received could impact the license renewal application for a business. Exemptions are included in the ordinance for people eating or drinking, performers and athletes.

According to the health commissioner, enforcement of the ordinance will be difficult for the health department as it continues to focus on education and vaccine encouragement.

"At this time, we do not have the capacity to enforce it," explained Johnson. "We don't have the staff to do it right now and we are really focused on testing; access to tests and vaccination."

District 4 Alderman Robert Bauman made his position heard during the Common Council meeting before eventually supporting the ordinance.

"No fines, no tickets, no nothing," Alderman Bauman said. "Basically, this is telling folks, what this comes to is, they've already recommended people wear masks. This is saying we really recommend it now."

District 8's JoCasta Zamarripa authored the ordinance. The alderwoman says that while she would have liked to see more enforcement language involved, she still feels this mandate will make a positive difference.

"This is not a perfect piece of legislation," Alderwoman Zamarripa said. "Aldermen Bauman pointed out this could be much more stringent. This could have stricter enforcement, and I might have liked to seen a little stricter enforcement, but this is a compromise piece of legislation.

The alderwoman went on to express her gratitude toward her colleagues for supporting the ordinance.

"Certainly was quite a fight, but I was happy to see the majority of my colleagues join me in voting for this mask ordinance in Milwaukee," Alderwoman Zamarripa said. "It's unfortunate that we can't make this a countywide measure."

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson said that he expects to sign the piece of legislation, saying that he believes it meets the criteria he was looking for when it comes to signing a mask ordinance.

"It had to be focused on education and not be punitive," the acting mayor explained. "I wanted to make sure that the legislation, also, was not done in a political sense. I think that's not what we should be doing. We should be leaving it to the experts on Covid-19 and the professionals in the Milwaukee Health Department to make those decisions, and that there was sign-off from the health department. If it met those criteria, I'd be interested in signing it and I think this legislation has done that."

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