By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Friday that will bar government officials from requiring businesses to enforce new mask mandates.
But there may be less there than meets the eye.
Nothing in the statute crafted by Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, outlaws mask mandates.
It remains within the power of the governor to issue new mandates, like he did last year when he said bars, restaurants, movie theaters and fitness centers could reopen. They just had to follow certain protocols, including that staff and patrons were masks.
All the new law says is that the governor -- and state and local officials -- can't order businesses to enforce those edicts about who has to be wearing a mask. That technically would be up to others, ranging from local law enforcement and state health department workers to the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.
It is true that some of those agencies did close down businesses for failure to comply with the governor's executive orders. But most of those closures were for violating occupancy requirements, not for having unmasked customers.
The wording of the new law, which takes effect later this summer, also could preserve the ordinances adopted by Pima County as well as cities like Tempe and Phoenix: They would remain legal as long as they don't order a business to enforce the mask-up orders under penalty of fines.
Even with those exceptions, Ducey said the new law is flawed. He said there are some "rational mask requirements'' that employers are supposed to obey -- requirements that would be abolished if the legislation takes effect as written.
For example, there are regulations that mandate that employers to provide masks for people working with asbestos and hazardous chemicals. As written, Chaplik's legislation would exempt those companies from being fined for failing to comply.
"The state needs to be able to enforce long-standing workplace safety and infection control standards unrelated to COVID-19,'' the governor wrote in a message along with his signature on the bill.
Ducey said he agreed to approve the flawed measure now based on a promise by Chaplik that he would find a way of fixing it -- and doing so in separate legislation this session.
Chaplik declined to comment about the legislation or the fixes he promised.