Arizona Businesses One Step Closer To Freedom As Mask Optional Bill Heads To Senate

By Corinne Murdock

Arizona businesses are one step closer to freedom from state and local governments requiring them to enforce mask mandates. On Wednesday, the House passed HB 2770 in a close vote of 31-28, with one representative abstaining. The decision was made along party lines – all Republicans voted in favor of it, all Democrats voted against it.

State representative Joseph Chaplik (R-23) introduced the bill; 11 Republican co-sponsors signed onto it. The only Republican representatives that didn’t sign on were Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-25), Joel John (R-4), John Kavanagh (R-23), Joanne Osborne (R-13), Bret Roberts (R-11), and Jeff Weninger (R-17).

In a press release following the vote, Chaplik commended the House members who voted in favor of the bill for deferring to their constituents’ judgment when it comes to enforcing mask-wearing in their businesses.

“Business owners are intelligent enough to make their own decisions with their private companies and this bill restores their rights,” stated Chaplik. “Employees should not be forced to police other citizens on private property and be in confrontational situations risking their safety when their job duties did not require this role.”

Although a majority of customers complied with business’ imposition of mask mandates last year, there also came to be a continued pattern of highly-publicized incidents of retaliation or protests. This occurred frequently enough for major retailers like Walmart to relax its requirement that employees enforce customer mask-wearing.

At present, Arizona doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate. However, the state does mandate that schools and businesses enforce mask-wearing. Certain counties and cities have enforced a mask mandate, such as Maricopa County.

The guidance on mask-wearing has changed frequently over the past year of this pandemic. Whereas before the CDC didn’t state initially that masks protected the wearer, they now claim that they do – and that practices such as wearing more than one mask (“double-masking”) and knotting the mask more tightly to the face further reduce the spread of COVID-19. Although experts don’t recommend storing masks in a ziplock bag between uses, which ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ has claimed is a safe method of storage.

Following the lift of the stay-at-home order in mid-May, cases began to rise up until the beginning of July. Around mid-June, Governor Doug Ducey began to implement mitigation measures such as business closures, mask and social distancing requirements, and public event limitations. Cases reportedly began to decline around July. A subsequent report by the CDC issued in October didn’t connect mask wearing with the reduction in cases exclusively, but attributed all the mitigation factors imposed collectively.

Wednesday marked other advances made to move communities out of pandemic-imposed restrictions. Ducey announced that schools must offer in-person learning options for their students.

The legislature is also contemplating bills addressing Ducey’s emergency powers. The Senate passed SB 1084 to terminate a state of emergency after 90 days unless the legislature extends it. They also passed SCR 1003, a resolution to allow voters to decide whether a state of emergency should be terminated after 30 days unless the legislature extends it.

Other bills in the legislature inspired by the pandemic include several bills addressing vaccine exemptions, neither of which have advanced in the legislature since they were introduced.

Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.