Covid-19 Mask Mandates Are Again at Center of Political Battles

Covid-19 Mask Mandates Are Again at Center of Political Battles

Lawmakers across several states are seeking to limit the powers of governors and other officials who, in the future, may want or need to implement public-health measures such as mask mandates.

In North Dakota, the House of Representatives pushed forward a bill that sought to ban mask mandates issued by state-elected officials or the state’s top health officer. The bill still allowed cities, counties, school districts and businesses to make rules for the usage of facial coverings.

On Wednesday, Republican

Gov. Doug Burgum

vetoed the bill, saying in a letter to the speaker of North Dakota’s House of Representatives, that the bill removes “a tool from the emergency tool kit that may be needed to help our state save lives and nimbly navigate future pandemics and their unknowable challenges.”

A day later, North Dakota House lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto, sending the bill to the state Senate, where it has been introduced.

Daily reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Note: For all 50 states and D.C., U.S. territories and cruises. Last updated

Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

Across the country, state lawmakers have sought to limit emergency powers given to governors during the pandemic, roll back mask mandates and, now, limit powers in a future public-health crisis.

The efforts come as epidemiologists and public-health officials say pandemic fatigue among Americans is leading to relaxed behaviors around the use of masks and social-distancing measures. Covid-19 cases have risen in some parts of the country, even as vaccinations appear to be protecting the most vulnerable.

In North Dakota, legislators meet regularly in odd-numbered years for an 80-day session. Last year when the Covid-19 crisis began, the legislature didn’t meet and couldn’t weigh in on the governor’s actions, said

Rep. Jason Dockter,

a Republican, who represents a district that includes Bismarck.

Legislators now want to give power over mask mandates back to local communities because every city, county and school district has a different situation, said Mr. Dockter. Some school districts, he said, have 60 or 70 students total and a mask mandate may not make sense in such a rural community.

Some lawmakers felt that the governor had too much overreach with his emergency orders, said Mr. Dockter. “But I was getting flooded with emails and calls from constituents very concerned that if the governor can do this he can do other things.”

Public-health officials increasingly agree that the kind of broad lockdowns used last spring may be too unpopular to sustain, but say the use of masks and other facial coverings significantly cut transmission of Covid-19. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mask mandates were associated with a decrease in daily cases and death counts within 20 days of implementation.

As more U.S. adults get their Covid-19 vaccines, a variety of side effects are emerging. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez speaks with an infectious disease specialist on what is common, what isn’t and when to seek medical attention. Photo: Associated Press

But increasingly, governors are lifting mask mandates. According to recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 28 states have a mask mandate as of April 19, down from 36 states that had a mask mandate two months ago.

After Arkansas Republican

Gov. Asa Hutchinson

lifted a statewide mask mandate, the majority-Republican House on Thursday passed a measure that would prohibit state agencies or local governments from imposing mask mandates. That bill now heads back to the state Senate.

Last month in Ohio, Republican House and Senate lawmakers overrode Republican

Gov. Mike DeWine’s

veto of a bill that effectively weakens a governor’s authority to issue emergencies and health orders.

Ohio Senate President

Matt Huffman

said the bill represented a balance of power, not a battle for power. But Mr. DeWine said it “strikes at the heart of local health departments’ ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face.” The bill will go into effect in June.

Lawmakers in the Idaho House of Representatives this month passed a bill that essentially does away with mask mandates. That bill now sits in the Idaho Senate.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly,

a Democrat, signed a bill last month that allows for the governor to extend a state of emergency, but gives the legislature final say in what executive orders can be included in an emergency declaration. Earlier this month, Ms. Kelly issued an executive order encouraging counties in the state to continue mask mandates. Republican legislators revoked the order.

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com

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Source: WSJ – US News

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