On Wednesday, the House Government and Elections Committee narrowly approved a bill from State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale) prohibiting government entities or schools from requiring minors to wear a mask without the express parental consent. All Democrats voted against HB2616, ensuring Republicans edged out a narrow 7-6 victory.
“I believe parents should make decisions for their children, not the government,” asserted Chaplik. “The states of Florida and Virginia, with bipartisan support, have passed this similar policy. I will continue to stand for freedom in Arizona for our constituents.”
HB2616 would’ve had greater reach than government and K-12 education: the original bill also prohibited mask mandates in private businesses for both adults and for minors, unless the business had express parental consent for the child to wear one. An approved amendment to HB2616 from State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) struck those additional provisions.
During the committee hearing, Chaplik explained that obtaining consent was up to the schools. When State Representative Sarah Liguori (D-Phoenix) expressed confusion as to whether schools would be required to obtain written consent for a child that showed up to school wearing a mask, Chaplik clarified that the child arriving to school in a mask was sufficient parental consent.
Liguori lambasted her colleagues for “buying into a political narrative.” She claimed that school districts with mask mandates have opt-out options for parents. That is incorrect. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), for one, doesn’t mention the option to not wear a mask on school property.
“I hate to get caught up in the politics of the masks, which I believe was intentionally designed as an illusion but its even more of a fantasy to think we as legislators know more than the experts who have trained their entire lives in these fields and have studied the science and data on this day in and day out for the past two years,” said Liguori.
State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) challenged Liguori’s assertion that the experts were infallible and that the masks were a political issue. Hoffman reminded the committee of the CDC’s track record of changing their guidelines and goalposts constantly.
“In reality, the science is on the side that kids should not be forced to wear masks,” said Hoffman. “This is not a political argument, it’s an actual medical science argument. There’s countless medical studies to support this, and there are countless health professionals at the highest levels — especially medical doctors, not just public health professionals because there’s a very big difference between an actual medical doctor and a public health professional — they support this.”
On Tuesday, the American Federation for Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten pushed back in an interview with MSNBC against the beginning trend to drop mask mandates in schools. Weingarten admitted that masks are not only intolerable but an impediment to learning.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has also pushed back, arguing in an interview with Reuters this week that “now is not the moment” to drop mask mandates.
The Scottsdale hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering hundreds of illegal immigrants has been repurposed this year for sheltering Afghan refugees. In an email obtained by State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) Chief of Police Jeff Walther briefed the mayor and council on a situation that it appears not even local law enforcement was aware of until after the fact.
According to Walther’s relayed intelligence from the organization contracted by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD) to run the shelter, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley. At most, Walther said there would be 300 refugees housed at the hotel.
Walther reassured the council and mayor that the refugees were vaccinated, vetted by the State Department, and educated on American culture. The chief of police then admitted that there’s no security on site at the moment, but said IRC promised there would be at some point in the future.
If anyone attempts to contact the hotel, they will be met by individuals purporting to operate a regular hotel. Walther explained that the IRC hired a hotel management company to disguise the site was a functioning hotel serving “a closed clientele” — i.e., the refugees. At no point will the State Department or DOD manage the hotel or install any personnel there.
Just like last year, this reporter called the hotel. A woman answered, identifying the establishment as Homewood Suites; there was a substantial amount of background chatter. The woman informed this reporter that they were accepting reservations, but that there weren’t any available rooms until June, but didn’t disclose why.
AZ Free News inquired with Scottsdale’s mayor and city council about the hotel, and its reported lack of security for the refugees. A spokesperson for the mayor and council submitted this response, essentially repeating portions of information relayed by Walther and stating that city officials couldn’t do anything about something happening within their jurisdiction because the federal government was involved:
“The city was recently informed that a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the federal government has rented part of a vacant hotel in Scottsdale to house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. This site is being used as a temporary housing facility while each resident/resident family is assigned a sponsor family to live with throughout the greater Phoenix Area. The individuals at this location were previously housed at U.S. military bases. While there, they were vetted by the U.S. State Department and vaccinated against COVID-19. Scottsdale is in contact with the organization operating this site, but has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for this purpose. This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight.”
Chaplik warned his constituents that their city council had, once again, allowed unsupervised foreigners to occupy a building at the heart of their community.
“Residents of Scottsdale, is this what you voted for? City Council refused to put up a fight when ICE took over this hotel and now the Feds are bringing in Afghan refugees with NO public notice whatsoever. And NO security hired yet,” wrote Chaplik. “This is our community and council doesn’t care.”
As AZ Free News reported last June, the hotel was converted into a migrant shelter by ICE almost overnight to offset the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants caused by President Joe Biden. The shelter operated as a temporary migrant transition facility from May until the end of last month. Unlike the operations that concluded recently at the hotel, this shelter won’t be overseen by ICE.
On Friday, our other reporters drove by the hotel. They reported seeing garbage piled around the building, with employees hauling more garbage out of the building. There were no barricades around the hotel.
Walther claimed in closing that there have been few issues in the past with the refugees in the Phoenix area and across the nation. He informed the mayor and council that SPD met with IRC officials on Friday afternoon.
On Friday, a group of Arizona legislators reached out to Governor Doug Ducey with an offer to work with him to address the “omnipresent border crisis.” In a letter to the governor, the legislators also inquire as to the level of funding provided to the Border Strike Force.
Led by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, the lawmakers advised the governor that they hope to work with him to “come up with a concrete plan to further allocate resources to complete portions of the Border wall and ensure Border Strike Force is fully funded.”
The lawmakers accuse the Biden Administration of not making “the public safety or health of Arizonans” a top priority, noting that it “took until today for Vice President Kamala Harris to see the invasion for herself in El Paso.”
“We applaud other governors answering your call for assistance to send some of their law enforcement as back up as the ongoing invasion continues along the southern Border,” write the lawmakers. “The problem is real. We wish you didn’t have to rely on other states to bail us out because the federal government has failed us, but illegal immigration affects every state.”
The lawmakers cite as a source of concern an incident that occurred earlier this year which was “highlighted in the local newspaper that the Department of Public Safety release two confessed human smuggler with just a traffic citation after stopping him along a valley freeway in April with a van full of illegal immigrants.”
“It was rather alarming to read that the illegal immigrants in the van were released into the Phoenix area even though it is a direct violation of state law to be in our state unlawfully. It is noted that the federal agents would not pick up this van full of illegal immigrants if they weren’t violent felons. If the Border Strike Force isn’t identifying traffickers along the southern Border and they are making their way into the Valley, is the Border Strike Force understaffed and underfunded?”
The lawmakers expressed a desire to “work together to further investigate why this human trafficker was let go.”
“We support trade relations with Mexico, but we do not want transnational crime rings bringing further ruin into our state. It is past time to plug the gaping holes on state land that buttress Mexico allowing traffickers to invade our state.”
The lawmakers argue that border security is a states’ rights issue.
Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that Texas would build its border wall. Abbotts aid that the state will be soliciting donations from across the country to help fund the wall.
“When I do make the announcement later on this week, I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States — really everybody in the entire world — who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute,” Abbott said on a podcast show called “Ruthless.”
As AZ Free News reported earlier this month, Ducey and Abbott urgently requested all U.S. governors to send available law enforcement resources to their states along the U.S.-Mexico border as illegal border crossings, apprehensions, and unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody increase.
The Customs and Border Protection apprehension numbers for May showed more than 180,000 illegal aliens were apprehended crossing the border over the course of the month, a 674% increase from the 23,237 illegal aliens apprehended at the border in May 2020.
In a joint letter from Ducey and Abbott, fellow governors were told: “In response to the ongoing surge of illegal border crossings, with the accompanying threats to private property and to the safety of our citizens, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster and Governor Ducey has declared an emergency.”
Bolick was joined in the letter by Reps. Becky Nutt, Tim Dunn, Walt Blackman, Brenda Barton, John Kavanaugh, Mark Finchem, Joseph Chaplik, Beverly Pingerelli, Leo Biasiucci, Judy Burgess, Frank Carroll, Quang Nguyen, John Fillmore, Jacqueline Parker, and Steve Kaiser.
Earlier today I wrote a letter to @dougducey addressing the #BorderCrisis & the need to work together to solve it. Many of my fellow legislators co-signed it. If the Fed’s aren’t going to finish building the wall, AZ should. ???? pic.twitter.com/DXbit71KP3
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 severalbills 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 email@example.com.