Mesa senator vows defiance of mask rule - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Mesa senator vows defiance of mask rule

December 31st, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Mesa senator vows defiance of mask rule

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

With COVID-19 still flaring, the president of the State Senate has ordered that anyone coming into the building must wear a face mask to attend sessions – setting the stage for a confrontation with Mesa’s newly elected Sen. Kelly Townsend.
Senate President Karen Fann said the directive is designed to ensure the safety of everyone conducting business at the Capitol, including people with preexisting conditions and those who care for vulnerable individuals.
The Prescott Republican acknowledged that the issue of masks has become a political lightning rod, but said she hopes the rules will “eliminate some of the divisiveness we have encountered throughout this pandemic.’’
That does not appear to be working.
Townsend, the east Mesa Republican who had served in the House and was just elected to the Senate, said she has no intention of complying.
“I’ve already told them where I stand,’’ she told Capitol Media Services. “What are they going to do? Arrest me?’’
What can be done, if the rules are followed, is simply refuse to allow Townsend into the building.
“They’re going to physically block me from the building?’’ she asked.
“Well, that’d be fun,’’ Townsend added, promising to invite a reporter there when she attempts entry.
Townsend also is questioning Fann’s ability to enact what is formally being called a “protocol’’ as there has been no vote of lawmakers.
But Fann believes she’s on solid ground, citing an existing rule that gives her, as president, not just control of the Senate chamber but “all parts of the Senate wing and all other areas and buildings used exclusively by the Senate.’’
Fann indicated she’s unlikely to back down – even if it brings legislative action to a halt.
“Failure to adhere (to these rules) could result in lack of quorums, inability to conduct voting and other work we need to accomplish,’’ she warned. And the ultimate result, Fann said, would be shutting down the session.
The rules are designed to facilitate actual committee hearings, including allowing members of the public to actually participate in hearings.
But it remains doubtful that supporters or foes of legislation will be able to pack hearing rooms the way they have until now. That’s because visitors will be allowed into the building only to actually participate in a committee hearing or for a prescheduled meeting with a senator or staffer.
The House is expected to announce its own rules this coming week.
They are expected to be similar, with Fann saying the Senate rules “were developed in collaboration with the House for uniformity and consistency for all within the Capitol community that participate in legislative proceedings.’’
The rules come as lawmakers grapple with how to conduct business amid the continued threat of infection from the coronavirus.
It starts with the idea of limiting the chances that someone who is infected will even enter the building. Under the rules, anyone wishing entry, including lawmakers, staff and visitors, will be subject to temperature checks.
Then there’s the requirement for masks.
A legislator or staffer in his or her own individual closed office will be free to unmask. And there even are allowances for people who have their own dedicated work space, which can include a desk or cubicle.
“However, if one person enters another person’s dedicated work space, then everyone in that space must wear a mask or other appropriate face covering,’’ the rules read. “There are no exceptions.’’
And not just any mask or piece of cloth covering just part of the face.
“Masks or other face covering must cover the nose and mouth and should fit snugly against the sides of the face,’’ according to the policy.
There is a provision for those who are “medically unable’’ to wear a mask according to their doctor. They are required to wear a face shield that covers the mouth and nose.
But that’s not a preferred solution,
with the rules urging these people to work remotely.
There is a separate rule for “social distancing’’ of six feet between individuals, along with no shaking hands or other physical contact.
The rules also create a new duty for Senate pages, requiring them to disinfect hearing rooms and the caucus rooms after each meeting.
And there will be free testing for staffers and lawmakers during certain hours of each day.