This story has been updated to include comments from the Alabama Attorney General’s office.
Cities around Alabama are enacting mask ordinances to combat the spread COVID-19, and while the issue was briefly discussed by the Gadsden City Council this week, there are a number of questions that would have to be addressed before any legislation is drafted.
Council member Thomas Worthy asked if an ordinance requiring face masks in public had had been considered, and council President Cynthia Toles said she brought the issue up during a conference call with the Emergency Management Agency last week.
"I got on the conference call, and I asked the question: ’How is it going to be enforced?’" Toles said.
City Attorney Lee Roberts said the question of enforcement had come up after the city of Birmingham passed its mask ordinance.
He said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had reiterated that the city only has powers given to it by the state, and the city did not have the authority to require residents to wear face masks.
After this story was originally published, the attorney general’s office released a statement to The Gadsden Times contradicting Roberts’ comments and clarifying Marshall’s position on the issue.
"The Attorney General has never questioned the authority of cities to enact mask ordinances. Rather, the Office has assisted numerous local officials with the proper procedure for imposing such a mandate, as well as provided guidance on the relevant constitutional considerations," said Mike Lewis, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.
As of Monday, no action had been taken by the state against any mask measure.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that Gov. Kay Ivey and other government officials who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference expressed doubts that they could enforce a statewide mask order.
In an email to The Advertiser on Monday, Ivey’s office said they did not oppose local measures.
"Governor Ivey respects the individual choice of citizens to wear a mask or not, just as she respects that of businesses or local entities to require it," Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote.
Roberts said it may be a case of "no harm, no foul," where cities can pass ordinances requiring masks and those may stand as long as there’s no enforcement.
However, he also said that only applies to government entities like the city — private businesses can make their own rules for the customers that come into their stores.
Other cities around the state have either enacted mask ordinances recently or are considering the measure.
Selma put a measure in place on Saturday, while the city of Montgomery and Jefferson County enacted orders earlier in June.
Toles said the upcoming Fourth of July holiday is a concern with people gathering, which she said could lead to another surge in cases.
Nearly every member of the council during their comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting urged local residents to wear masks.
"You’ve got to be cautious and use common sense when you’re out in public," Toles said. "Encourage everyone to wear a mask, and tell your friends and family because it’s not getting any better — it’s getting worse."