Ducey signs bill providing businesses option not to enforce mask mandates

Some students worry the decision could lead to increased COVID-19 transmission near campus

Some ASU students are worried that recent statewide legislation rolling back COVID-19 restrictions is premature and will affect case numbers within the ASU community before students return for the fall semester, which is expected to be fully in-person.

The Arizona State Legislature passed House Bill 2770 April 1, allowing businesses to decide whether or not to continue enforcing mask mandates.

The bill, which was introduced by a group of Republican representatives, was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey April 9 and won’t take effect until mid-July.

Ducey issued an executive order March 25 lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Arizona businesses, which included invalidating local mask mandates. However, Tempe, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson city councils have promised to continue enforcing mask mandates.

According to James Hodge, a professor of law at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law who specializes in public health law, the bill invalidates cities', counties' and towns' ability to enforce their own mandates.

“(This bill) does negate the capacity for local government to utilize its own jurisdictional authority to require a mask mandate among at least businesses," he said; however, the new legislation won't affect ASU's ability to enforce mask mandates on campus.

"Now, the city of Phoenix can say, 'At a Phoenix city park, you still have to wear a mask.' And ASU as a university, because we're a distinct unit from the city of Phoenix, or of Tempe or otherwise, can still say, 'You have to wear a mask on this campus,'" he said. "But Gov. Ducey is very, very clear with this legislation. Businesses, “you don't have to force these local ordinances or requirements to wear masks.'"

Hodge said at this point, he doesn’t see the state legislature or Ducey taking any action to prohibit mask mandates at Arizona universities, but the governor rescinded orders requiring masks in K-12 schools April 19.

According to Hodge, it’s much more difficult for cities to challenge legislation than it is to challenge emergency executive orders. Cities will have to rely on advocates who are against the legislation to encourage businesses to enforce mask mandates.

Keep AZ Safe, an advocacy group created in response to the rescinded mask mandates, has put together a Google Form and Google Sheet to allow people to keep track of which businesses in Arizona enforce mask mandates and social distancing measures.

“We'll wait to see just what the next month of April and May look like in regards to increased infections, but it could be going up,” Hodge said.

Students like Luke Mosiman, a sophomore studying business and civic and economic thought and leadership, believe Ducey made the right decision and that the decision to allow businesses to not adhere to mask mandates won't have a large effect on the return to campus. 

He said enough people will be vaccinated to avoid a necessity to use ASU Sync next semester, even with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted.

"A lot of students are vaccinated, low risk or have already had the disease," Mosiman said. "All people should be able to make their own decisions based on their circumstances."  

However, students like Mya Vallejo, a junior studying criminology and criminal justice, are concerned the reopening of local businesses without masks could contribute to an increase in COVID-19 cases at the University.

“Just because we have a strong vaccine rollout doesn’t mean this is over,” Vallejo said. “(Ducey) should be focusing on protecting us, keeping us safe and getting everyone vaccinated before we act like everything is over and safe.”

She hopes that his decision to sign the bill won’t affect plans to return in-person in the fall.

“The CDC says we need to wear masks still," Vallejo said. "Why does that not matter to him?” 

Reach the reporter at rpriest2@asu.edu and follow @reaganspriest on Twitter.

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