Georgia gov sues to end cities' defiance on mask rules

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp prepares to sign House and Senate bills at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital where the hospital opened a new Emergency Room space, Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. Mayors in Atlanta and other Georgia cities deepened their defiance of Gov. Kemp on Thursday, saying they want their requirements for people to wear masks in public to remain in place, even after the Republican governor explicitly forbade cities and counties from mandating face coverings.(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is suing Atlanta's mayor and city council to block the city from enforcing its mandate to wear a mask in public and other rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, in a suit filed in state court late Thursday in Atlanta, argue that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has overstepped her authority and must obey Kemp's executive orders under state law.

“Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the lawsuit states.

Kemp on Wednesday clarified his executive orders to expressly block Atlanta and at least 14 other local governments across the state from requiring people to wear face coverings.

Kemp’s order was met with defiance Thursday by Bottoms and some other mayors, who said they would continue enforcing the order. The lawsuit forces that showdown, resolving an ambiguous situation with Kemp denying local governments could order masks, but local governments arguing it was within their power.

Bottoms said Thursday during a video news conference that the city's order is still in effect.

“As of today, 3,104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106,000 who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Bottoms said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. "A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing. If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”

The state asks a judge to overturn Bottoms’ orders that are more restrictive than Kemp’s, block her from issuing any more such orders, instruct the City Council not to ratify Bottoms’ actions or adopt any ordinances inconsistent with Kemp, to force Bottoms not to make any public statements claiming she has authority that exceeds Kemp’s, and to require city officials to enforce “all provisions” of Kemp’s existing orders.