Butler County commissioners swat down request to create ‘mask sanctuary’

“We have no legislative authority,” one commissioner said. “None. Zero.”
Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 11:15 PM EDT
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HAMILTON, Ohio (FOX19) - A former Ohio state representative is pressuring the Butler County Board of Commissioners to create a so-called mask sanctuary that would protect those who do not want to follow Ohio’s mask mandate.

Candice Keller brought up the issue at the board’s meeting on Monday, expressing her frustration with the mask order that is now 10 months old.

“In what universe is it your business what I’m wearing and what I’m not wearing,” Keller said, adding she’s tired of wearing a mask.

Commissioner Donald Dixon said to Keller on Thursday, citing an opinion directly from the Butler County Prosecutor, “We have no legislative authority. None. Zero.”

Keller replied, “We’re not asking you to make a law. We’re asking you to ignore illegal orders coming from out of the governor’s office.”

The commissioners say they will continue to follow orders from the governor and Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Keller’s argument rests in part on the notion that the ODH order enforcing the mask mandate violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title II of that act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations.

Keller claims forcing a customer to wear a mask in order to enter a business is just such a form of unlawful discrimination.

She also says the health order is a violation of Ohio’s separation of powers, which vests the legislature with the power to make and pass laws rather than the governor or ODH.

Ohio’s constitution does empower administrative agencies like ODH to pass regulations and emergency orders.

The health orders ODH and Gov. Mike DeWine passed last year faced myriad initial legal challenges on constitutional grounds but none got as far as the Ohio Supreme Court.

An Ashland court did recently ruled in favor of a business owner who refused to wear a mask serving customers due to her health condition. It remains unclear whether that ruling has any application whatsoever to Keller’s request, which is of an entirely different kind.

Ohio’s health orders main challenge comes from Senate Bill 22, passed over the governor’s veto at the end of March.

SB 22 grants the Ohio legislature the ability to rescind public health orders, emergency declarations and any other executive branch order or rule issued in response to an emergency declaration.

It will take effect three months from its passage, or the end of June, by which time DeWine has said he hopes the health orders will be repealed anyway.

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