Small business owner sues Hillsborough County over mandatory mask ordinance

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As a small business owner in Plant City, Eric Gonyon has dealt with a lot during the coronavirus crisis. He is now facing a new challenge: taking on the government over a recently-adopted mask mandate.

“Now I have another mountain to climb. Another challenge to go after. And now, here’s another burden. This is just another burden for me as a business owner to bear. It’s another headache. It’s another hardship and it’s another expense actually,” Gonyon said Monday.

He and his attorney Anthony Sabatini, who is also a state representative, call the ordinance unconstitutional.

The requirement was put in place last Monday by the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group (EPG).

The eight-member panel, in a 5-3 vote, decided if anyone goes into a business, a mask is required. Owners could get fined or jailed if patrons don’t follow the rules, according to the ordinance.

“They decided they’re going to criminalize and turn business owners into an arm of law enforcement in Hillsborough County. They want to make business owners in charge of enforcing this unconstitutional mandate,” Sabatini (R-Clermont) said.

Gonyon, who was flanked by supporters outside the county courthouse for his lawsuit announcement, said it is impossible to check with each customer at his farm and market to determine if they have disabilities and cannot wear a mask.

During an EPG meeting Monday, Department of Health-Hillsborough County Director Dr. Douglas Holt stressed the importance of masks and mimicked what the governor said.

“He needs people to understand fully the rules. Social distancing. And wear the mask when they’re unable to do so,” Holt said.

The EPG will discuss lessening the punishment for a business owner not in compliance at its meeting next Monday.

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