July 21, 2020 / 1:04 PM / 20 days ago

Georgia judge to hear arguments over governor's bid to stop Atlanta mask mandate

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia judge is scheduled Tuesday to hear arguments in an emergency motion brought by Governor Brian Kemp to stop the city of Atlanta from enforcing a mandate that people wear masks in public to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The motion, pending before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Ellerbe, is the latest salvo in a clash between some Georgia mayors and Kemp over the issue of mask mandates, which the Republican governor opposes.

It asks the judge to halt Atlanta’s efforts while a lawsuit Kemp filed Thursday works its way through the courts.

Earlier this month, Kemp issued an order that bars local leaders from requiring people to wear masks, but a handful of Georgia cities, including Democratic-led Atlanta, Savannah and Athens, have bucked the governor and continued to require them in public.

The governor’s office filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city council that argues local officials lack the legal authority to override Kemp’s orders.

“Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage a public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the 16-page complaint reads.

The governor’s office has not yet filed lawsuits against the other mayors.

Kemp, one of the first governors to ease statewide stay-at-home orders and business closures following the early stages of the U.S. outbreak, has suggested that mandating masks would be too restrictive.

Bottoms has said she planned to defy Kemp’s order and enforce a mandatory mask ordinance.

“I take this very seriously and I will continue to do everything in my power to protect the people of Atlanta,” the mayor said on NBC News’ “Today” on Friday, and she added that the lawsuit is “a waste of taxpayer money.”

Bottoms, who has announced publicly that she and members of her family have tested positive for COVID-19, remains in quarantine at her home office. Judge Ellerbe’s hearing will be conducted by video conference later Tuesday morning.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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