Councilman Lazard: Local mask ordinance in the works for city of Lafayette

Months after backing away from an effort to push forward on a local mask mandate, City Council members Nanette Cook and Glenn Lazard are determined to succeed this time. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Click here to read council members Glenn Lazard and Nanette Cook’s press release about backing away from their effort to pass a local mask ordinance.

The gist: Lafayette City Councilman Glenn Lazard is moving forward on a local mask mandate he hopes will tighten and potentially expand upon the state order that went into effect Monday. 

Lazard has the backing of at least two of his fellow council members; he needs three votes for the emergency ordinance to pass and four to override a possible veto. While he has offered formal support for the state mandate, Mayor-President Josh Guillory has long opposed a local decree to slow the spread of coronavirus, saying as recently as early July, in response to Lazard’s request for an executive order, that such measures infringe on the public’s liberties.

“The council has the right to introduce an ordinance as they see fit,” says Guillory’s spokesman, Jamie Angelle. “We’ll address it when it comes up. The mayor-president is in communication with the council members. It’s something that’s being discussed.”

Guillory has a coronavirus press briefing today at 3:30 p.m.

“Ultimately, it’s about compliance,” Lazard says. “It’s been proven that the most effective way to combat the virus is wearing face masks or some kind of facial covering,” he continues. “[The ordinance] is to get people to start doing it, put more of the onus on individuals. That’s where the problem lies.”

Right now, the governor’s order places a high level of enforcement pressure squarely on businesses.

Lazard says the ordinance will clear up local enforcement authority but will still likely mirror some of the language in the governor’s order. Because he’s continuing to work through the details with Assistant City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott, he declined to discuss specifics. He’s hoping to have the ordinance finalized by the end of the week, so an emergency meeting can be called. “This would apply only to the city,” he says. “If the Parish Council chose to do something, they would have to [take separate action.]” 

Council Chairman Pat Lewis is on board, saying he is prepared to call the emergency meeting. “I believe in the science,” he says. “This ordinance is to help stop the spread.”

Local business owners say the governor’s order puts them in a precarious spot with customers. The mandate assesses potential penalties — a $500 fine or up to six months in jail for each violation — to the proprietor. That causes problems even for proprietors who are working in good faith to uphold the statewide mandate.

Don Richard of Albarado’s Fine Furnishings in Lafayette says it’s a struggle to be in charge of enforcement and that full compliance has been tough to achieve. “Of course it’s difficult to be required to police this, but I want to be a good citizen,” Richard says. 

The statewide order has been undermined from the jump. On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is under quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus earlier this week, called into question whether penalties are enforceable. Unlike the governor’s executive order, his advisory opinion does not have the force of law. In a rare show of bipartisan support for battling the novel virus (the two have long been at odds politically), Landry appeared with Gov. Edwards on March 18 to say the governor had the authority to issue executive orders to slow the spread. The attorney general has since sought to undermine the governor’s efforts.

Lazard, a lawyer, says he is concerned about legal challenges and is looking at similar local ordinances across the country to avoid a court battle. Courts have typically upheld mask mandates, but there have been exceptions. In Shreveport, for example, the mayor’s emergency mandate was temporarily blocked by a court order last week. However, on Tuesday, the Shreveport City Council moved forward with its own ordinance that assesses a misdemeanor penalty of $50 for each offense. (Read the ordinance here.)

Though it appears to be a moving target, policing the governor’s mandate rests primarily on the back of the state fire marshal, with cooperation from local police and fire departments varying broadly across the state. For its part, Lafayette Consolidated Government says it “recognizes” the mandate and will continue to issue warnings to businesses not in compliance. “If a business is reported or found in violation for a second time, the business is referred to the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Louisiana Department of Health and could be issued a citation by LPD,” LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle said in a prepared statement Monday, the day the order went into effect. “Businesses who still remain non-compliant will be subject to additional enforcement steps to include shutting off power and whatever other measures are necessary to ensure compliance.”

Lazard believes local enforcement is key. “A local ordinance has a little bit more meat to it in terms of enforceability,” he says. 

“Apparently what we are doing is not working,” says Councilwoman Nanette Cook, who also plans to support the ordinance. “We’re not trying to call anybody out. It’s to reinforce what the governor is doing. I’m just pleading to your better judgment. By putting a little cloth on your face you can protect yourself and your neighbor.” 

Hospitalizations in Acadiana are more than double their April peak. Council members say they’ve been inundated with pleas to put forth an ordinance. “After the governor’s order, Glenn and I have gone back and forth,” Cook says about the necessity of a local mandate. “But the community would like for us to make a statement. It’s one more cry — wear a mask.”

“I’m waiting to see what Councilman Lazard’s ordinance calls for,” says Councilwoman Liz Hebert. 

“It’s already mandated statewide,” Councilman Andy Naquin tells me. “I find it to be redundant.”

Lazard has a unique perspective on the virus, as he’s been battling leukemia since the fall, making him all the more vulnerable to its ravages. But, he says, that’s not what’s driving him. “It certainly makes it more personal,” the councilman says. “I would have this position regardless. If we don’t do something, what we are going to face is going to be much, much more serious.”

What does he think Guillory will do? “This is coming from me,” Lazard says. “Based on the mayor’s prior position, there is a strong possibility that it will be vetoed.” He doesn’t know if there is enough council support to override Guillory’s veto. 

Lazard, however, won’t be deterred by the threat of a veto. “Without a doubt,” he says, “I think we need to send every possible signal that we can to the community that we think this is a serious matter.”