PHOENIX — Two more bills restricting responses to the coronavirus pandemic are heading to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's desk, including one that would impact the ability of future state leaders to respond to another airborne-spreading disease and a second blocking the state from ever requiring schoolchildren to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Tuesday's state Senate votes were the latest moves by GOP lawmakers to limit what they have called government overreach.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved a bill that would ban any state or local government agency from requiring facemasks to be worn in their buildings. The measure already passed the House and got no support in either chamber from minority Democrats. They have argued it removes one of the most effective measures to prevent the spread of a respiratory disease like COVID-19.
Senators also approved a bill barring the state Health Services Department from adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list of inoculations required to attend public schools. It replaces a measure passed last year that only banned mandates for vaccines given federal emergency use authorizations. That measure too is heading to the governor's desk and got no support from minority Democrats.
Democratic Sen. Raquel Teran said committee testimony from former state health director Will Humble laid out an extensive and lengthy public process required to add a new vaccine to the state list, saying it's not just one bureaucrat making the decision.
“The purpose behind the vaccine requirement is to keep kids in school, keep them healthy and stop outbreaks,” Teran said Tuesday while urging the Senate to reject the vaccine bill.
Arizona allows parents to easily opt out of vaccine requirements by signing a personal belief exemption form, Teran noted.
An additional bill passed by the Senate Tuesday bars any government agency from requiring a minor to get a coronavirus vaccine unless their parents give their consent. That measure drew support from one Democratic senator and now moves to the House.
Ducey has already signed multiple pieces of legislation this year targeting virus restrictions. One would bar schools from requiring students to don masks unless their parents gave their explicit OK and another prevents government entities from requiring employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. He has not indicated if he would sign the bills approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
Ducey backing the restrictions comes despite the fact that the governor himself either ordered business closures, allowed the state health department to require masks in certain settings or did not object when municipalities and county governments issued mask mandates during pandemic's first year.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mask-wearing during times of high community transmission of COVID-19 greatly limits its spread.
Ducey has also signed bills declaring that religious services are essential even in an emergency, and allowing clergy to make hospital visits if any visitation is allowed or if a person is near death. Ducey never limited religious services during early pandemic shutdowns. Many hospitals barred all visits to coronavirus patients.
Republican Rep. Neal Carter of San Tan Valley, the sponsor of the bill blocking mask mandates in government buildings, said early in the session that he wants it left to up to individuals to choose whether a mask is needed.
“The goal of this bill is return the power to the people to decide whether or not something is necessary in a government office, instead of allowing unelected bureaucrats to make that decision unilaterally across the state,” Carter said.
Most government buildings, including courthouses, had mask mandates in place for much of the pandemic before loosening them in recent months.
The introduction of vaccinations against COVID-19 are credited with limiting deaths and serious injuries, but mandate opponents say that personal choice should outweigh government vaccination mandates.
Ducey recommended mask-wearing and vaccinations but opposed government mandates.
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