By Rich McKay
ATLANTA, July 28 – A Georgia judge is scheduled on Tuesday to hear arguments in an emergency motion brought by Governor Brian Kemp to stop the city of Atlanta from enforcing a mandate that people wear masks in public to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
But in a late night legal move, the hearing that was set for 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) Tuesday was moved to 2 p.m. so the two parties can attempt binding mediation starting at 8:30 a.m., according to a filing in Fulton County Superior Court.
Local media station WSB-TV reported that the governor plans to withdraw the request for the emergency hearing. That could not be confirmed by Reuters late on Monday and a representative for the governor was not immediately available.
The motion, pending before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick, asks the court to halt Atlanta’s enforcement efforts while a lawsuit works its way through the courts.
The lawsuit, brought by Kemp, is the latest salvo in a clash over mask mandates between the governor and some local officials, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Earlier this month, Kemp issued an order that bars local leaders from requiring people to wear masks, but a handful of Georgia cities, including Democratic-led Atlanta, Savannah and Athens, have opposed the governor and continued to require them in public.
The governor’s lawsuit argues local officials lack the legal authority to override Kemp’s orders.
“Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage a public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the 16-page complaint reads.
Kemp, one of the first governors to ease statewide stay-at-home orders and business closures, has suggested that mandating masks would be too restrictive.
As southern U.S. states have seen a spurt of new cases, Georgia has had more than 167,000 coronavirus cases and over 3,400 known fatalities. (Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jacqueline Wong)