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Milwaukee Set To Impose Stiffer Fines On Businesses That Ignore COVID Guidelines

Lauren Sigfusson
A sign directs customers to wear masks at Crossroads Collective on Milwaukee's east side.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says he’ll sign an ordinance that increases fines for bars and restaurants that violate mask and social distancing orders. Under the new rules, penalties would increase from a maximum of $500 per violation to a maximum of $5,000 per violation.

The Common Council unanimously approved the measure last month. The move comes as the city and state have seen skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

On a conference call Tuesday, Barrett said the stiffer fines were designed to give businesses more incentive to comply with COVID-19 health guidelines.

“This is not about us making a lot of revenue on fines," Barrett said. "That’s not what our intent is. Our intent is to have businesses work with us to follow the law, so that we can end this pandemic."

Barrett says he had been hearing anecdotally that some bar owners “didn’t mind” paying a $500 fine and considered it a small price to pay in order to stay in business.

On another COVID-related topic, Barrett announced that the non-profit Milwaukee Continuum of Care on Tuesday started opening shelters and warming centers for those in need this winter. He says those shelters will operate differently this year.

“In accordance with our local ordinances and CDC guidelines, the Continuum of Care will make its best effort to shelter all those people currently experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence, in shelters or socially distanced non-congregate settings," Barrett said.

Also on the call, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley talked about a new administrative order that took effect Tuesday. Crowley says under the order, public safety officers will be stationed at the entrances to the courthouse, the Vel Phillips Justice Center and the Zoofari Center among other venues, screening employees and contractors for COVID-19.

“With these enhancements, it is our hope that Milwaukee County employees, our contractors and our visitors will stay safe and healthy and be able to do the important work that they do in this community every day," Crowley said.

Crowley and Barrett spoke on the day that the state broke a new record for COVID-19 deaths – at 107. 

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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