AUSTIN, Texas — At a special-called Austin City Council meeting Thursday morning, council members voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that states a person who violates a health authority rule during the coronavirus pandemic could face a $2,000 fine through December 31.
The ordinance directs the public health authority to come up with a list of what those rules are, but as of Thursday evening, the rules were still not clear. One example of a possible rule is wearing a face covering or social distancing.
KVUE has learned the fine will be enforced similarly to other fines in the city, through tickets and prosecuted through the Municipal Court.
In terms of enforcement, it's still not clear if violations will be reported to Austin 311 or 911, nor which agency will respond to calls.
"The goal isn't just issuing fines, our goal should really be to get compliance across the community because this really is a life-or-death matter," said Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar. "So I hope that you bring together members of the executive team to think about all of the places where city employees are and how we can proactively make sure people are following the orders along with taking the 311 calls."
The council passed another ordinance Thursday that requires businesses and construction sites to follow a whole list of COVID-19 precautionary guidelines. Those include things like wearing masks, social distancing, no groups larger than 10, and screening workers for symptoms each day before working.
If businesses do not follow the guidelines, they are deemed a "public health nuisance" and the city attorney is authorized to file a civil suit against the business to seek compliance.
The ordinance also calls for a written notice to explain the violations. It will not go into effect until Tuesday at the earliest while city staff works to iron out the details.
At the meeting, council members also discussed new ways to enforce state and local orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott sent Mayor Steve Adler a letter saying the city had his support in enforcing additional measures for compliance:
"The City of Austin’s consideration of additional enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advice from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens. Taking steps to ensure compliance with these Orders, as the City is contemplating, is necessary to protect public health and safety and will reduce the spread of COVID-19."
As coronavirus hospitalizations surge and Travis County nears Stage 5 orders, Austin leaders said they will likely not move into a Stage 5 status Thursday, KVUE's Tony Plohetski confirmed. Here's a breakdown of what Stage 5 status would entail if leaders were to recommend it.
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