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Legislation introduced to ban mask mandates in Idaho

Republican state Rep. Karey Hanks addresses the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday in the Statehouse in Boise.  (Keith Ridler)
By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – An Idaho House panel took up legislation Tuesday to prohibit mask mandates by government entities that have been put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The House State Affairs Committee cleared the way for a potential hearing on the bill put forward by a dozen conservative Republican lawmakers.

Republican Rep. Karey Hanks said she had done research “on the physical and emotional and even mental injuries to our bodies, and possibly even our souls, as healthy individuals are required to wear these masks.”

Hanks said face masks can help spread disease.

“When people wear face masks, they tend to not social distance as much, not tend to wash their hands, take other safety precautions because they feel that they’re just taken care of because of the mask,” she said.

Health experts, however, have consistently said that wearing masks slows the spread of the coronavirus.

GOP Gov. Brad Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, though he wears a mask in public and encourages others to do so to slow the spread of the virus and maintain hospital capacity.

Seven counties and 11 cities have such mandates.

Under the bill, schools and universities wouldn’t be able to require masks on campus. Private businesses could still require masks if the bill is eventually approved.

Officials report that the coronavirus has infected more than 170,000 Idaho residents and killed nearly 1,900.

Introductory hearings such as the one held Tuesday only explain a bill. Debate about its merits is reserved for a public hearing. It’s not clear when a public hearing will be held on the mask legislation.