Idaho bill to prohibit mask mandates dies in state Senate
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation approved by lawmakers in the House prohibiting mask mandates by government entities in Idaho won’t get a hearing in the Senate, the powerful chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee said Monday.
Republican Sen. Fred Martin said that the committee is no longer meeting at this late date in the legislative session. He also said he has no plans to call it back to review and debate the mask-mandate ban bill or any other bill.
“We shut down the committee several weeks ago, so we are not hearing any additional bills,” Martin said.
He declined to unilaterally say that the bill is dead, but bills that don’t get committee hearings won’t advance and are considered dead. Committee chairman have significant power over what bills they choose to hold hearings on or let die with no hearing.
Supporters of the bill said requiring masks violates personal rights. Contradicting public health experts, Republican Rep. Karey Hanks said during debate in the House side that she has information that found masks are ineffective in preventing disease.
She also said that some victims of sexual violence find wearing masks to be traumatic if they had their faces covered while being assaulted.
The bill’s opponents said mask mandates are a local issue that should be decided by locally elected officials and that the masks effectively prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Republican Gov. Brad Little never imposed a statewide mask mandate. But some counties and about a dozen cities have during the coronavirus pandemic.
Martin, commenting on the merits of the bill, said he’s uncomfortable imposing a state law that gets between voters and their immediate representatives.
“I don’t like the federal government telling me as a state senator what we should be doing,” he said. “So I don’t like us telling the cities, the counties, the school districts what to do unless it’s something they’re coming to us for to make changes.”
Martin also said he was troubled that the proposed law banned courts, a separate branch of Idaho government, from imposing mask mandates.
“I’m not sure we have, or should have, the authority to be telling the courts what to do,” Martin said.
About 186,000 Idaho residents have been sickened by the coronavirus and more than 2,000 have died.
About 445,000 state residents are fully vaccinated against the virus and about 140,000 have received the first dose of the vaccines requiring two doses.
This year’s legislative session has lasted more than 100 days, making it the third-longest in state history. Martin cited that as another reason why he was reluctant to keep it going any longer.
“I feel like we’re a bunch of junior high boys out after midnight, and nothing of good comes of that,” he said. “It’s time to go home.”