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Face mask ordinance vs. mandate: What’s the difference?

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 2:16 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - We’ve heard the terms for months: mask mandate... mask ordinance. Many people in Omaha are following the ordinance by wearing a mask while in public, but words do matter.

The word “mandate” is defined as an authoritative command, especially a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one. The word “ordinance” is defined as a law set forth by a governmental authority.

“Me, as a lawyer, I don’t consider those two to be necessarily the same thing,” Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse said.

Matt Kuhse is the city prosecutor. Kuhse says the COVID-19 pandemic has made the term common language as many city’s issue mask mandates to fight off the virus.

“It’s a term that people understand when they hear it, if someone hears the term mask mandate, I think they know what it means,” said Kuhse. “What the council is actually doing is they are passing an ordinance, a law.”

The Omaha City Council extended its mask ordinance at its meeting Tuesday.

Page three of the ordinance reads, in part: “All individuals five and older shall wear a face covering while indoors in a public place.” Page six of the ordinance spells out the penalties: A misdemeanor for violating the ordinance and a $25 fine for each incident.

But some members of Omaha’s City Council say that right now, the ordinance — or law — has no teeth.

“But as we all know there is no enforcement of this law, that is another reason why I believe the rates are going up there hasn’t been one citation issued under this ordinance,” City Council President Chris Jerram said during the meeting Tuesday.

Jerram went on to say that there is a section in the community who refuse to follow the law and wear a mask during the pandemic.

6 News did ask Omaha Police why no citations have been issued to those violating the city’s mask ordinance.

OPD responded with a statement, it reads in part: “The police have been doing compliance checks. The department’s focus has been to educate the community and gain voluntary compliance. We have been successful in obtaining voluntary compliance and have not had to issue any citations.”

Last week, OPD said they had received about 150 complaints against people not complying with the city’s mask ordinance.

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