By BOB CHRISTIE
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s Republican governor has signed legislation that will prevent state health officials from ever adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school inoculations and bar face mask mandates in any buildings operated by state or local governments.
The two coronavirus bills signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday would permanently block disease mitigation measures that health professionals say are critical to reining in the coronavirus pandemic if case counts again surge or the virus mutates and becomes more deadly to children.
The ban on face masks in libraries, courthouses and other public buildings could also affect efforts to stem the spread of a new airborne illness. Ducey’s office released no comment from the governor when it announced late Friday afternoon that he had signed the two bills along with 18 others.
He did tout the signing of legislation requiring public K-12 schools to devote a portion of the school day each Sept. 11 to teach about the terror attacks that struck the nation in 2001, and a bill that forbids insurance companies from considering a dog’s breed when reviewing homeowner’s insurance applications.
The coronavirus measures were the latest moves by majority GOP lawmakers to limit what they have called government overreach. All House and Senate Republicans voted for the measures, and minority Democrats were unanimous in opposition.
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.
They are major turnarounds from virus restrictions Ducey backed early in the pandemic before joining many other Republican politicians in vocally opposing mandates. He ordered business closures, issued orders requiring mask-wearing at public schools and did not object when municipalities and county governments issued mask mandates during the pandemic’s first year.
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 illness, but mandate opponents say that personal choice should outweigh government mandates.
The bill barring the state Health Services Department from adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school inoculations replaces a measure passed last year that only banned mandates for vaccines given federal emergency use authorization. Democrats said it wasn’t needed since Arizona makes it easy for parents to opt out of any vaccine mandate.
The measures will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its ongoing 2022 session.