Milwaukee Common Council passes citywide mask mandate

WMC concerned about enforcement burden on businesses

Ristorante Bartolotta employees are required to wear masks. Photo Credit: The Bartolotta Restaurants.
Bartolotta employees and diners are required to wear masks. Photo Credit: The Bartolotta Restaurants.

Last updated on July 14th, 2020 at 02:02 pm

The Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed a citywide mask mandate Monday afternoon.

The ordinance requires people ages 3 and up to wear masks when in public spaces, like restaurants and stores, and when they are outside and within six feet of someone else.

The policy has enjoyed support from many business leaders in the city. More than 80 Milwaukee business owners and operators – including Fiserv Forum and the Deer District, Marquette University, Visit Milwaukee, Marcus Restaurant Group and Bartolotta Restaurants – threw their support behind the policy in a letter to Common Council members and Mayor Tom Barrett Monday morning.

“Without a city mandate, many customers will not be willing to come to our businesses,” the letter said. “Compliance with requirements a business may establish will be inconsistent at best without a city requirement. Our employees can’t be assured of a safe work environment. And the risk is much higher for new outbreaks, which could result in new stay-at-home orders that put us out of business for good.”

Wisconsin has seen an uptick in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and public health officials have urged residents to remain diligent in their physical distancing and masking efforts.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which represents about 4,000 employers statewide, raised issue with the mask mandate putting the enforcement burden on businesses.

The ordinance requires businesses to enforce the masking policy within their establishments. Businesses face fines of up to $500 per violation, and the city could shut down the business for repeated violations.

“Businesses are not law enforcement agencies and this ordinance will create unnecessary (potentially violent) conflict between employees of these businesses and clients/customers,” Kurt Bauer, WMC president and CEO, said in a letter to the Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett. “Further, the ordinance could open up potential civil liability for job creators.”

WMC said the city should instead have to enforce the policy, not businesses.

Milwaukee business leaders that support the ordinance, however, said enforcing the mask mandate is no different than current laws related to smoking or requiring customers to wear shirts and shoes.

“We believe the passage of this ordinance will result in the vast majority of people complying voluntarily, as they have already done for 10 years with Wisconsin’s no-smoking law,” the Milwaukee business leaders said. “With this law on the books, we will have leverage needed to educate patrons about the requirement or ask them to leave if necessary.”

The Common Council also approved a plan to provide all residents in the city of Milwaukee with a mask for free upon request. Saukville-based Rebel Converting has pledged to provide the materials to make 1 million masks, if the city passed a mandate.

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