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Editor’s Thought Bubble: The shameful mask-less House of Representatives

By: - January 12, 2021 10:00 am

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I saw something shameful yesterday that I’ve never seen in my 16 years covering Arizona’s government: two swearing-in ceremonies in the state House of Representatives. Why? Well, a large number of Republican legislators refuse to abide by the chamber’s rule that everyone in the building wear masks. Their masked colleagues apparently didn’t want to be in the room with them when they took the oath of office, as they loudly recited (or even shouted, as often happens) the oath during the ceremony. Instead of all 60 taking the oath at the same time, some 40 or 45 masked lawmakers (mostly Democrats, but not exclusively) were sworn in while their unmasked co-workers waited in the member’s lounge. Then the newly christened legislators left, the unmasked came in (exclusively Republicans) and took their oath.

Several people asked me yesterday why those legislators were able to even refuse to wear masks, since both Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix have mask mandates. The answer is because the Arizona Constitution allows each legislative chamber to “determine its own rules of procedure,” which GOP leaders interpret as placing them outside the authority of the city and county mandates. The House has required masks, but there’s a belief among House leaders that any such regulations are unenforceable against elected officials, who can’t be sanctioned the way employees can. Of course, the House could always do what the Senate did and put the COVID restrictions in the House rules, which would force even the lawmakers to follow them.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.