By Beau Evans
Gov. Brian Kemp is dropping a lawsuit against Atlanta officials and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the city’s mask mandate following weeks of negotiations toward a settlement amid the COVID-19 pandemic, his office announced Thursday.
But the governor signaled he plans to take new action on business and masking rules following months of loosening restrictions, claiming Atlanta’s mayor decided “she will not agree to a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia.”
“Given this stalemate in negotiations, we will address this very issue in the next executive order,” Kemp said in a statement. “We will continue to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
State officials said negotiations with Bottoms stalled as the mayor pushed for enforcing the mask mandate on Atlanta businesses and other private property. Both sides had agreed to let the city keep its mask mandate so long as it was not enforced in residences and penalties were capped for non-compliance.
The current COVID-19 order, which expires Saturday, includes distancing and sanitizing requirements for social gathering spots like bars and restaurants as well as a prohibition on local governments from enforcing their own mask mandates.
Kemp has made clear he will not order any statewide masking requirements, opting instead to encourage voluntary widespread mask use. His office has called local mandates unenforceable.
The lawsuit, filed last month by Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, sought to have a Fulton County Superior Court judge declare unlawful a citywide masking requirement imposed by Bottoms earlier in July.
It marked an intense ratcheting up of the dispute between Kemp, who has insisted on keeping mask-wearing voluntary, and several Georgia mayors including Bottoms, who want local control over mandatory measures to help curb the virus’ spread.
The governor’s office was quick to point out the lawsuit mostly took aim at steps Bottoms took in July to resume limits on public gatherings to 10 persons in Atlanta and to reimpose a shelter-at-home order for city residents.
Bottoms stressed she intended for those resumed restrictions, which were in place during April under a statewide order by Kemp, to be voluntary for Atlanta.
Additionally, the lawsuit sought to bar Bottoms from “issuing press releases, or making statements to the press, that she has the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures than are ordered” by the governor.
Bottoms, who tested positive for COVID-19 in July, has cast the governor’s priorities as misplaced in light of the impacts of the virus, which has sickened hundreds of thousands of people in Georgia and killed thousands more.