State Sen. Justin Wayne argues cities can issue face mask ordinances despite Gov. Ricketts' claims

Nebraska Gov. Ricketts on cities' authority to adopt mask mandates
Nebraska Gov. Ricketts on cities' authority to adopt mask mandates
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 4:13 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A Nebraska State Senator is pushing back on Gov. Pete Ricketts' refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate on Monday.

State Sen. Justin Wayne (District 13, Omaha) issued a statement in response to Ricketts' claim on Monday that cities cannot issue special ordinances requiring the use of face masks.

Ricketts said, “We allowed local health departments to roll out individual type DHMS earlier this year when the virus was spreading asynchronously, now the virus is spread pretty much uniformly throughout the state, so we are going to have a statewide approach and local health departments will not be allowed to do their own (Directed Health Measures).”

Wayne countered that, as chairman of the Legislature’s Urban Affairs Committee which has jurisdiction over most statutes governing cities and villages in Nebraska, Ricketts is wrong.

Ralston Mayor Don Groesser this past weekend said the City of Ralston could not adopt its own mask mandate similar to what Omaha has done. Wayne believes a city ordinance mandating the use of face masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be applicable under Nebraska Revised Statute Section 16-238.

The statute allows first-class cities such as Ralston to “make regulations to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious, infectious, or malignant diseases into the city.”

Ralston Police said a local bar -- Bushwackers Dance Hall and Saloon -- has sparked complaints about the lack of mask-wearing at the establishment.

Bushwackers Director of Facilities Ben Kautz said they are committed to the safety of their patrons and employees in accordance with state and local municipalities mandates.

However, pictures taken at the saloon in October caused problems. While no COVID-19 restrictions were violated at the time, photos showed an unmasked crowd gathered together on Oct. 24 for the Nebraska Huskers game.

“There is a state statute that law enforcement has been given. It’s been approved by the city prosecutors office that we use that you can cite managers, business owners, whatever,” said Ralston Chief of Police Marc Leonardo.

Wayne believes a city ordinance mandating the use of face masks would be authorized, if not by statute 16-238, then through another statute 18-1720 which empowers all cities and villages in the state to define, regulate, suppress, and prevent nuisances.

“I continue to be hopeful that the state will eventually issue a statewide directed health measure that mandates the use of masks in all of our communities,” Wayne wrote in a statement. “Absent this state action, however, I believe that individual cities in Nebraska have the authority to take decisive action and follow the lead of Omaha and Lincoln by not just suggesting that we wear a mask to stop the spread - but by requiring it.”

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