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Politics & Government

Bill Banning Mask Mandates Clears Idaho House Committee

Heath Druzin
Boise State Public Radio

An Idaho House committee Monday signed off on a bill that would ban all levels of state and local government from implementing mask mandates.

The vast majority of public health officials say masks are critical for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 530,000 Americans and more than 1,900 Idahoans as of Monday morning.

“The intent of this bill is to free our people, that they don’t have to wear these medical devices that are difficult and even impossible for them to wear,” said Rep. Karey Hanks (R-St. Anthony).

Several of those who testified in favor of the proposal were women who said they were sexual assault survivors. Wearing a mask, they said, ignited their anxieties and dredged up old trauma.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape and need help, you can contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

“These are my patients and they are discriminated against every single day as you’re already hearing,” said Lynn Laird, a psychologist in Meridian. “I’m particularly disheartened at how many of my fellow healthcare providers are so myopic that they can’t even see beyond one aspect of health to see the bigger picture in regard to their patients.”

The bill would prevent cities, counties, school districts, public health districts and other governmental entities from implementing a mask mandate.

It would not apply to private businesses, against the wishes of some who testified.

Claudia Frent said she’s tired of hearing that private businesses are allowed to do what they want. 

“I understand that to a degree, but Walmart and Costco and restaurants, I don’t view them as private businesses,” Frent said.

Others said they had biblical reasons for opposing mask mandates.

Sarah Rivera, from Caldwell, said it’s “extremely frustrating” that her kids have to wear masks when they attend public school, which she said is part of her custody agreement.

“I believe God gave us an immune system and I put my faith in him and I take personal responsibility for my health and my children’s health,” Rivera said.

Susie Gilman said she drove eight hours from Sandpoint to testify Monday with her young son Tate. Her family moved from California in August to “get away from the sheer madness that’s happening there.”

“We likened it to we didn't want to be the last Jews in Germany because we know what happened there,” Gilman said.

The Nazi regime systematically executed millions of people based on their ethnicity, political activism, sexual orientation or their physical or mental capabilities. No government has come near that level of punishment for not following public health guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus, though many in Idaho – including sitting state lawmakers – have compared these restrictions to the Holocaust.

Only a handful of people testified against the bill, including Dave Krick, who owns Bittercreek Alehouse and other restaurants in downtown Boise.

Krick said Boise’s mask mandate helped his employees feel safe at work.

“It stabilized this,” he said. “It allowed most of the public to accept it so that it became normal so that we could normalize our operations and our business.”

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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