Kemp v. Bottoms settlement discussions hit a snag over mask mandates

07/16/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp gives a thumbs-up as he avoids answering questions about his new decision to spell out that cities and counties canÕt mandate the use of masks following the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Wellstar Kennestone Hospital Emergency Department building in Marietta, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/16/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp gives a thumbs-up as he avoids answering questions about his new decision to spell out that cities and counties canÕt mandate the use of masks following the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Wellstar Kennestone Hospital Emergency Department building in Marietta, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The settlement discussions between lawyers for Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms seeking to avoid a contentious courtroom battle over coronavirus restrictions hit a snag days before mediation is set to begin.

Both sides support Bottoms’ decision to emphasize that the city’s “phase one” rules urging new economic limits are voluntary and not mandatory, according to two senior officials who requested anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

But deep divisions remain over whether Bottoms can require masks within Atlanta’s limits. State officials have agreed to allow cities to require masks on city property – but not beyond – as part of the settlement offer, according to the officials.

Atlanta officials want Kemp to remove a provision in his latest executive order that explicitly outlaws mask requirements, giving them leeway to require the use of masks anywhere within city limits. The governor’s office has insisted that cities can’t require masks on private property.

The lawsuit could have vast implications. More than a dozen cities have adopted mask mandates since Savannah first instituted a requirement for face coverings in June. And at least 100 municipalities require masks on city-owned property.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

Kemp’s office filed the lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court last week, days after Bottoms imposed a mask mandate and announced a return to “phase one” guidelines that call for restaurants to stop dine-in services and residents to stay home if possible.

It triggered an escalation in a back-and-forth between the governor and the mayor of Georgia’s largest city, with Kemp calling the restrictions confusing and Bottoms accusing him of playing politics. Since then, Bottoms has sought to defuse the tension and called Kemp to broker an agreement.

Officials describe the prospect of a compromise as uncertain ahead of a mediation session on Monday. One said the negotiations effectively stalled over the dispute, while another said some progress was made toward a potential agreement.

The clock is ticking. Both sides are due in court on Tuesday.

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