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Johnson County business owners call COVID-19 code enforcement 'completely unconstitutional'

JOCO Board of County Commissioners meeting
Posted at 6:07 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 19:07:41-05

OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution allowing county code enforcement officers to fine violators of the county's COVID-19 protocols.

Resolution Number 108-20 was adopted by the board with a 4-3 vote on Thursday. It establishes that noncompliance with a Johnson County Local Health Officer Order or a Johnson County Board of Health Order is a violation of the Johnson County Code.

The resolution is directed at businesses and organizations, not individuals. A violation could result in up to a $500 fine.

More than 50 people attended the board meeting and spoke during the public comment section. Many people said the protocols and enforcement are unconstitutional.

“I would ask our fellow citizens not to comply this mandate. It’s completely unconstitutional. It’s a violation of your freedom and your rights as a citizen in this country and to be fined for walking down the street without a mask or sitting with a friend outside of a coffee shop without a mask or not being 6 feet away from them is completely unconstitutional," Elizabeth Mains said.

During board meetings, residents who attend must stay outside the meeting room until their name is called for public comment. Thursday, the meeting came to a brief halt after a number of people entered the meeting room chanting, "U-S-A."

Ryan Papon, owner of KC's Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Merriam, Kansas, told 41 Action News he was not surprised by the board's decision.

“I know I speak for myself, as well as many of the business owners, and feel like realistically, we’re getting kind of discriminated and targeted unjustly and realistically, we still have no numbers or science to support any of this being somehow directly caused by our industry," Papon said.

On Friday the board approved COVID-19 protocols that would require bars, restaurants and retailers to close at midnight. Papon said he has made the adjustments to be in compliance but is frustrated with the enforcement measure.

“Say a customer getting up and walking out or walking around to the bathroom without a mask — does this enforcement officer who happens to see that issue that citation against the business or the individual for not adhering, even though we clearly state and do our best to enforce those practices," Papon said.

There are still several steps to be taken before enforcement can begin. Cities in Johnson County must agree to allow county code enforcement officers the authority to potentially distribute citations and fines within city limits.

Johnson County, KS
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