Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks recently voiced his disagreement with penalizing business owners who choose to not enforce the governor’s statewide mask mandate inside their establishment.
Ricks made the comments during his State of the Parish address to the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce at Wholly Ground Coffee House in Walker on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
The event sold out its maximum of 50 tickets, a much lower number than in years past due to social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The chamber recently uploaded a video of Ricks’ 15-minute speech to Youtube. In his speech, Ricks said he understands the safety aspect of mask-wearing but does not agree with penalizing businesses who choose to not enforce it.
“There’s always the issue of masks versus non-masks,” Ricks said. “I understand the safety aspect of it [and] the social distancing, I get all that.
“But I’ve never agreed with, and still don’t agree with, penalizing a business owner that I think has the right to determine and decide whether or not he or she wants to enforce it.”
(To view the video, click here).
Louisiana has been under a mask mandate since mid-July, when the state was in the midst of a second surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Gov. John Bel Edwards kept the mask mandate in place when he advanced the state to Phase Three of reopening earlier this month.
Ricks expressed disagreement with the face covering order when it was first announced in the summer, saying at the time he was not in support of strict enforcement and penalties against residents that choose not to wear a face covering in all public settings.
Ricks, who spent 30 years in the medical field, told the Chamber he has received numerous calls about the mask mandate “from both sides” and feels it is up to the individual about whether or not to wear a mask.
He said he does not agree with enforcing fines on businesses not in compliance with the governor’s mask mandate and that mask usage may create a false sense of security.
“Do I think all the different masks help? No, I don’t,” he said. “But does it make you feel better? Yeah, it does.
“The down side to that though, and I’ve stated this many times… I think it has helped a lot of elderly people go to places feeling comfortable. The downside to that is, it really didn’t protect some of those elderly people that went to some of those places.”
Despite his misgivings about the effectiveness of the statewide mask mandate, Ricks said the parish “will continue to try to support [Edwards’] declaration and proclamation to the best of our abilities from the safety standpoint.”
“We have never wavered from that,” he said.
In other news, Ricks said Livingston Parish is “doing all that we can do now to help our neighboring parishes” affected by Hurricane Laura, which was the most destructive storm to ever hit the state.
He said the parish has sent around 3,000 tarps, tons of water, and many supplies to parishes in southwest Louisiana. He also said the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness have been “very involved” with helping their affected counterparts
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of experience with some of that,” Ricks said, referring to the August 2016 flood. “So it’s been a difficult time for everyone.”
Locally, Ricks said the parish put out 559 tons of sand and more than 8,500 sand bags for Livingston Parish residents during this busy hurricane season.
“When weather reports talk about water coming up, we get ready,” he said. “We will always be ready.”
In other news, Ricks sales tax collections have been up, noting that people are comfortable getting out.
He also discussed the upcoming one-cent 15-year sales tax renewal on the Nov. 3 ballot, a tax he referred to as the “bread and butter” to pay for road work in the parish. He said 75 percent of those funds go to roads and drainage improvement, while 25 percent goes to the detention center, which is under the authority of the parish administration.
The revenue generates $14.5 million for the road program and $4.5 million for the detention center.
“Without this, we’re basically sunk in water,” Ricks said. “We cannot do the work we can typically do.”
Ricks noted that capital outlay projects are ongoing, with 90 miles of roads and 390 drain improvements in the past year. He said the parish was able to secure $30 million in federal and state funding because of the flood. Another $30 million should also be accessed and is planned.
Other talking of Ricks included:
-- Izzo’s Illegal Burritos is still on track along with LIT Pizza and a fitness center in the same location on Juban Road.
-- The planning department has approved 23 new commercial applications since August 2019.
-- A new campground is slated for the Spring Ranch Road location with 330 campsites and 66 cabins.
-- There are 10 subdivisions with less than 100 lots and four with more than 100 lots being developed. Townhomes and other units are also in the works.
-- Three new telecommunications towers have been installed.
-- Of the 366 complaints that were filed by the end of 219, 140 have been closed while 143 of them are being worked. There are 155 employees for the parish administration.