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Idaho House approves bill to ban city mask mandates; Senate waits for budget bills

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho House members on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from imposing mask mandates as a health precaution, despite concerns over the measure’s legality.

The bill would prohibit government entities or any public official from requiring face masks, shields or coverings. No one could be denied work, services or entry into a building because they are not wearing a mask. Hospitals and health care facilities are exempt from the bill, but courts are not.

The bill would also aim to end “any” disaster emergency or public health order if any city or county violates the mask-mandate prohibition. Despite concerns that the bill won’t stand legal muster, House members approved it in a 46-23 vote. Republicans hold a 58-12 advantage in the House, so a few joined Democrats in opposition.

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, who sponsored the bill, said people with “trauma” and negative experiences with facial coverings should not be required to wear a mask. Even with current mandates, those with medical conditions that prevent them from masking up don’t have to wear one.

RELATED | Hanks: Masks cause damage to body, mind and soul

“This is a matter of personal rights and of our liberty,” Hanks said on the House floor.

Health experts have consistently urged residents to wear face masks in public to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Brad Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but seven counties and 11 cities in Idaho — including Boise — have such mandates, according to The Associated Press. Some health districts in Idaho issued mandates for certain counties during the worst times of the virus’ spread.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, pointed out in the past that the language of the bill is broad enough to include a welding mask on a welder. It also could prompt the end of a disaster declaration if a county receptionist directed a family member to wear a mask while entering the building, even if a higher-level employee overruled that direction, he said Wednesday.

Chaney said none of his concerns have been addressed in the amended measure. He also criticized some legislators for comparing mask mandates to sexual assault, but rejecting a previous policy that could have helped sexual assault survivors.

“This bill is a nice statement to make, and so if you’re here to make a statement, it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to vote for,” Chaney said. “But if you’re here to govern, its technical deficiencies are far too great for it to ever be successfully implemented.”

RELATED | Idaho lawmakers add penalty to proposed ban on mask mandates

The mask-mandate prohibition, House Bill 339, was one of the few bills House members passed Wednesday.

SENATE WILL RECESS UNTIL MONDAY, WAIT ON HOUSE TO CATCH UP

After a week’s rush in the Idaho Senate to pass bills, sometimes late into the evening, senators on Wednesday recessed for another four days.

They’re waiting on the House to pass appropriation bills. The Idaho Legislature cannot adjourn for the session unless it approves budgets for every department.

Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday announced that they will shut down until Monday to give House members the chance to catch up on passing budget bills. Senators should not approve other measures without first passing bills on budgets the Legislature is obligated to approve, said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.

“It’s not prudent to advance tax relief proposals or significant transportation and infrastructure investments until we have a comprehensive picture of how much funding is available to invest in projects or return to Idaho taxpayers,” Lee said in a news release.

The House so far has rejected a bill to fund teacher salaries for K-12 schools and higher education, as more Republican state legislators claimed attempts to advance a “social justice” agenda and indoctrinate children in classrooms. The House also rejected Little’s recommendation for the attorney general’s budget.

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