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St. Louis County asks judge to lift mask restraining order after County Council resolution supports order

St. Louis County asks judge to lift mask restraining order after County Council resolution supports order

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St. Louis County Council votes on mask resolution

From left, St. Louis County Council members, Tim Fitch, Rita Heard Days and Mark Harder attended a meeting in person held to discuss and vote on upholding a countywide mask mandate resolution at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building in Clayton on Friday, August 27, 2021. The other council members and County Executive Sam Page attended attended over video displayed on monitors. Photo by Daniel Shular, dshular@post-dispatch.com

CLAYTON — St. Louis County has asked a judge to lift a preliminary injunction she issued this month barring the county from imposing a mask order.

County officials said they filed a motion Friday night, soon after the County Council approved a resolution supporting the mask requirement. The motion asks Circuit Judge Ellen “Nellie” Ribaudo to lift an Aug. 19 preliminary injunction blocking the county from imposing its health order. The injunction, the county argued, was based on a council vote last month to rescind the mask order.

On Friday afternoon, the seven-member council voted 4-0 in favor of a resolution that “authorizes an extension of the July 26 order” for 30 days. It expressly forbids criminal penalties for violating the order.

That resolution eliminates the conflict between County Executive Sam Page’s administration and the county’s legislative body regarding the order, according to attorneys working to uphold the July 26 mask order against a legal challenge from Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

The court had determined that Schmitt “was likely to prevail” on his claim that the council’s first vote had terminated the July 26 order, the county said. Therefore, Friday’s vote should negate Schmitt’s argument, county officials reasoned.

“There is no longer conflict,” county attorneys wrote, “between co-equal branches of government within St. Louis County.”

However, council Republicans and Council Chair Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, said Friday’s resolution would have no legal bearing on the case.

The Republicans, Tim Fitch, 3rd District; Mark Harder, 7th District; and Ernie Trakas, 6th District, have opposed any mask requirement and they abstained from voting Friday on the resolution. They argued that it could not be used to enforce a mask mandate because it expressly forbids criminal penalties or enforcement.

The resolution reads: “For clarity, nothing in the face covering order authorizes any criminal penalties or criminal enforcement of any kind with respect to the July 26, 2021 Face Covering Order, such penalties and enforcement instead being expressly prohibited.”

And they argued that the council’s July 26 mask order had expired under a state law requiring legislative approval to extend public health orders past 30 days.

Days, who had consistently voted against earlier mask measures, said she supported the resolution because it suggested masking without enforcing it, calling it “ceremonial.”

Page, under questioning from the Republicans, said the resolution only expressed support for the order.

“As far as its impact on the public health order, that’s for the court to decide,” he said.

Joining Days in voting for the resolution were fellow Democrats Shalonda Webb, 4th District, and sponsors Lisa Clancy, 5th District, and Kelli Dunaway, 2nd District.

The vote represented a shift by Days and Webb, who joined the three Republicans on July 27 to rescind the health order issued the previous day by Page and his acting health director, Dr. Faisal Khan.

After that vote, Schmitt, who had sued to block the order, asked for a restraining order to stop the county from enforcing the mask mandate.

Ribaudo issued a temporary restraining order against the county order on Aug. 3, imploring attorneys on both sides to reach a compromise for the sake of public health. After they failed to do so, Ribaudo granted a preliminary injunction on Aug. 19.

At the time, Ribaudo said St. Louis County residents were caught between the July 26 order and the council’s vote to rescind it. And because the county had acknowledged it would not seek to enforce the order except in extreme cases, Ribaudo said the county’s insistence on a mandate was a “hollow threat which is unlikely to garner compliance if they have no intention to enforce.”

The injunction, she said, would give St. Louis County residents “a clear statement as to their legal obligations and rights with regards to face coverings.”

But, she said, “it remains the court’s hope that our citizens will respect one another and where appropriate wear face coverings to protect themselves and others from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.”

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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