The GOP-led legislature in Utah passed a bill Wednesday to prohibit government schools and universities from forcing people to wear a face covering in the fall.
The bill was co-sponsored in the House by Republican Rep. Val Peterson and would not bar counties from putting mask mandates in place after consultation with health officials in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak. “At some point this has to end,” Peterson said of masking in schools.
“What this bill is really about is making sure we have those assurances to our students that they can go forward next fall and get right into the school year without the thought of masks and what that might mean,” he added.
Sen. Evan Vickers, the other co-sponsor, told The Federalist that “H.B. 1007 Face Covering Requirements provides additional clarity to policy passed during the 2021 General Session.”
“It does not take away local control,” Vickers added. “School districts in conjunction with local health departments can issue mask mandates if a situation arises. We have made great strides in our fight against COVID-19. Our hospitalizations are down, cases are low, and vaccines are available for all individuals who want one, and this is an important step forward as we transition back to normalcy.”
H.B. 1007 includes the following three provisions:
- …prohibits an institution of higher education from requiring a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the campus of the institution after the end of the spring semester in 2021;
- prohibits the Utah Board of Higher Education from requiring a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the campus of the institution after the end of the spring semester in 2021; and
- prohibits a face covering requirement to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the school campus or facilities in the system of public education after the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
In addition to outlining mandates on mask requirements, schools would be disallowed from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of enrollment. Last week, GOP Gov. Spencer Cox announced Utah will not enforce masks in K-12 schools. Cox signed H.B. 308 into law in April to ban the government from forcing residents to receive the vaccine. College sporting events and public schools are not permitted to require vaccine passports.
Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds banned mask mandates in schools, cities, and counties on Thursday. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed an order to ban officials from enacting mask mandates. Other states have signed similar measures into law.
The Utah governor will need to sign the bill for it to become a law. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
“Nobody is trying to mandate that you can’t wear a mask,” Republican Rep. Mike Petersen told The Federalist.
“You probably know Joseph Smith was the originator of the Mormon Church,” Petersen said. “He said, ‘I teach correct principles and they govern themselves.’ I’m a firm believer in that principle. If people want to wear a mask, people are smart, and they will make choices that are best for them. We’re smart people. We will make good choices regardless.”