Last week, the Idaho Legislature introduced House Bill 514 which aims to put restrictions on local mask mandates, and directly conflicts with local government authority to put public health measures in place that are not provided for at the state level.
Under HB 514, public entities would be barred from enacting employer-based mask requirements. The City of Boise currently has in place an employee mask requirement for all city employees to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure that necessary city services can remain open and functioning, such as police and fire services, waste-water treatment, building inspections, and childcare licensing. By doing so, the city aims to reduce disruptions to critical services that our residents rely on to ensure our localized economy can continue to function.
It is important to note that local mask requirements are enacted in partnership with our local health district (Central District Health) to ensure coordination on public health needs and best practices as outlined by the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare and the Centers for Disease Control. The risk of COVID-19 community spread, and transmission remains high in our community, with the current Omicron variant currently posing a credible risk for enhanced transmission and infection that has impacted our hospitals, school systems, and supply chains across Idaho.
Most concerning in this legislation is the potential to nullify local and state emergency declarations and health orders if a local government were to institute a community-wide and/or employee-based mask requirement. Under the penalty provisions in HB 514, cities could face an inherent conflict – ignore mitigation efforts to support public health and safety or risk nullifying the broader disaster declaration or health order.
The City of Boise remains committed to the health and safety of our community, and ensuring we do all we can to keep our businesses open, hospitals out of crisis care standards, kids in schools and our economy moving into recovery.