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Bill in Alabama Legislature would prohibit mask mandates

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Bill in Alabama Legislature would prohibit mask mandates

Dec 08, 2023 | 8:01 am ET
By Alander Rocha
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Bill in Alabama Legislature would prohibit mask mandates
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A Black KN95 mask. (Catherine McQueen via Getty Images)

An Alabama representative filed a bill last week that would  prevent the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and certain state government entities from enacting mask mandates.

The bill, HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Brock Colvin, R-Albertville, would “prohibit governmental entities and the State Health Officer from imposing a face mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or any other communicable disease.”

“I don’t believe [the government] should have that authority,” Colvin said. “I think that people are smart enough to make those decisions for themselves. I just have that philosophical view that the government should have a very, very limited authority.”

State, counties or municipalities or any instrument of those entities, as well as public K-12 schools or public charter schools would be prohibited from enacting mask mandates.

The bill would provide exceptions to any medical facility licensed by the ADPH and state and local detention centers. There are no sanctions or punishments for failure to comply in the prefiled bill.

Several states, mostly Republican leaning, have passed anti-masking regulations since the COVID-19 pandemic, including Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Arkansas imposed a similar restriction that was overturned by a state judge in December 2021. Other states, such as Tennessee and Georgia have laws giving parents the right to opt their children out of masking.

The COVID-19 virus has killed over 22,500 people in the state since the first Alabama case was confirmed on March 13, 2020. At its peak in the state in the fall of 2021, up to 3,000 people were hospitalized each day for COVID.

In an email statement, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during COVID-19, the federal government provided ADPH guidance in implementing certain mandates to protect public health, in response to the “once-in-a-lifetime circumstances.”

But Harris said that the bill should stick with COVID-19 and not include all existing or potential communicable diseases.

“There could be existing or evolving respiratory diseases where preventative health measures could effectively mitigate widespread outbreaks,” Harris said in the statement.

Colvin’s bill goes further than a bill introduced in the 2023 legislative session that would allow parents to opt out of masking in K-12 public schools. The bill passed the House Health Committee but did not advance to the House floor.

Alabama House committee approves bill allowing parents to opt out of masking requirements

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollinger’s Island, at the time said the bill was not an “anti-school bill” or an “anti-masking bill,” but a “parental rights bill.”

Colvin said that this bill is about personal freedom, and that he’s not trying to address the science behind masking in the bill.

“I’m not even arguing the science on whether they work or not,” he said. “I’m just saying I don’t think the government has the authority to tell individuals what to do in terms of this.”

Harris stated that it’s not ADPH’s goal to restrict personal freedoms and rights, but that it’s imperative to keep Alabamians safe at all costs.

“ADPH has an obligation and a duty to the citizens of Alabama to promote, protect, and improve Alabama’s health,” the statement read.

Colvin, a first-term representative and financial planner, is running for Alabama Senate District 9, which includes Blount, Madison and Marshall counties. The seat was previously held by Clay Scofield, R-Arab, who stepped down to take a job with the Business Council of Alabama.