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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Idaho House Lawmakers Vote To Ban Mask Mandates

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Heath Druzin
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Boise State Public Radio

Idaho House lawmakers easily passed a measure that would block any level of government from imposing a mask mandate.

That includes cities, counties, public health districts, universities and school districts. The proposal wouldn’t apply to private businesses or hospitals.

“This is a matter of personal freedom, that your health and safety is your responsibility primarily,” said Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg). “It is not government’s responsibility.

Doctors and researchers overwhelmingly say wearing a mask cuts down transmission of the coronavirus.

“I don’t want to debate the research, really,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Karey Hanks (R-St. Anthony).

Instead, Hanks said she wants lawmakers to think about sexual assault survivors who say they can’t wear a mask because it ignites past trauma.

Some cities and public health districts have implemented mask mandates in Idaho during the pandemic. But they’ve also had several exceptions – including mental health reasons.

“I have no doubt that many have found these requirements repugnant,” said Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell), who was among 11 Republicans who voted against the bill.

“There are, however, ladies in my life who have experienced things that cause me to bristle at comparing a mask mandate to a sexual assault,” Chaney said.

In addition, he said there could be several unintended consequences – including violating the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches – if the legislation applied to the courts.

Chaney also said it could block legitimate safety policies, like state employees who wear masks to clean National Guard barracks south of Boise.

“The reason you don’t sweep out there is because the field mice carry hantavirus and if you sweep, you kick up dust.”

Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) mentioned that McCall recently extended its citywide mask mandate into next month, which she said will hurt businesses further.

Moon also said that cases of COVID-19 in Idaho had dropped to the point where she said “the pandemic doesn’t exist in the state.”

Far-right Republicans have repeatedly downplayed the extent of the pandemic over the past year.

Idaho has recorded 2,000 deaths and nearly 184,000 cases, which includes 36,296 probable cases as of Wednesday afternoon. COVID-19 has killed 563,000 Americans and nearly three million worldwide.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which could take it up when lawmakers return from recess on Monday.

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

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