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Utah Senate votes to overturn mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties

 Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, sponsored a resolution to overturn mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.
Ivana Martinez
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, sponsored a resolution to overturn mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

The Utah Senate voted Tuesday along party lines to overturn mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

The resolution, S.J.R. 3, still needs to be approved by the House.

The resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said it’s not the government’s role to require masks.

“Individuals are more than capable and able to make their own health-related decisions,” McCay said. “Businesses and schools are now put in difficult situations where they're forced to enforce mask mandates and mask adherence when they have unwilling customers and unwilling participants and unwilling students.”

McCay also said he was responding to his constituents who are upset about the mask requirement.

Throughout an almost hour-long debate, Democrats argued the Legislature should respect local control and the state needs this tool to deal with the massive surge of COVID-19.

“This is not a joke,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. “The mask is not going to prevent everything and end the pandemic. It is just a tool and people have options to opt-out if they want to. It's for the benefit of everyone that we're doing this. We should be working towards that and not put [up] more barriers for people to be safe.”

The Legislature passed a law in 2021 that allows them to overturn local executive orders like mask requirements.

At a press conference minutes after the Senate passed the resolution, Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Angela Dunn said she’s never seen government move so fast.

“Unfortunately, it's in a direction that is harmful to the health of our residents in Salt Lake County,” Dunn said. “We just keep getting punched in the gut every time we try to protect our citizens.”

Dunn issued the mask mandate on Jan. 7 as case numbers and hospitalizations have increased with the omicron variant. The order had bipartisan support among the Salt Lake County Council.

Council member Aimee Winder Newton was one of the Republicans to stand behind it.

“It’s frustrating to have the Legislature write legislation that gives a very specific process on health orders,” Winder Newton said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It was followed by our county. I don’t think it was anything egregious, but then to take that local control away is frustrating.”

The resolution passed the Senate without receiving a committee hearing where the public can comment on pieces of legislation. The Senate suspended its own rules in order to bypass that typical part of the process.

Senators voted to remove a section of the resolution that would automatically overturn future mandates until April 1. So, it’s possible they would have to draft and vote on a new resolution if more mask requirements are implemented.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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