It was one year ago this month when President Trump commented that the cure cannot be worse than the problem. Sitting now at day 351 of 15 days to slow the spread, restaurants are still limited to 50% capacity, bars are closed, gyms are limited to 25% capacity, and thousands of Arizona students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in months. It is time to recapture a sense of normalcy by protecting businesses, limiting liability exposure, and putting an end to school shutdowns. Several bills at the legislature this session aim to do just that.
Protecting Businesses from Policing Mask Mandates
Over the course of the perpetual lockdown, businesses have been expected to assume the role of the state by policing mask mandates from counties, cities, and towns in fear of shutdowns, fines, or other draconian penalties. In the House, two bills address this issue and protect businesses from emergency orders.
HB2770, introduced by Rep. Chaplik, passed out of the House Commerce committee just a couple weeks ago on a party line vote. The bill is simple in its approach, asserting that businesses are not required to enforce mask mandates from the state, any agency, county, city, or town.
HB2570, introduced by Rep. Hoffman, passed out of the House Government & Elections on February 18 on a party line vote. The bill would protect businesses by prohibiting any agency, county, city, or town from revoking a business’s license for not complying with a state of emergency mandate, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the business was the actual cause of transmission of the disease addressed in the emergency order.
Protecting Businesses and Other Organizations from Civil Liability
Even if businesses are allowed to open back up and the threat of license revocation is ended, businesses and organizations would still risk civil liability suits from their employees and customers.
After failing to pass civil liability protections at the end of the last legislative session, SB1377, introduced by Sen. Leach, passed the Senate by a vote of 18-12 last week. The bill would protect a provider from civil liability during a public health emergency unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the provider failed to act or acted in a manner that was grossly negligent.
This is a necessary measure to ensure businesses can open with reasonable protections for employees and patrons, without leaving them exposed to frivolous lawsuits.
Putting an End to School Shutdowns
At this time, even the CDC is reporting that COVID transmission is not a concern for in-person learning. Yet thousands of students are still out of the classroom, leading to decreasing performance and growing mental health concerns. And taxpayers are still expected to foot the bill for empty seats.
In his State of the State, Governor Ducey insisted he will not fund empty seats. But just a cursory scroll through the Department of Education dashboard reveals that even today, the share of schools that are in person are far outweighed by not only those that are hybrid, but those that are entirely distanced.
Arizona must continue to reopen businesses and schools. The health of our businesses, economy, and children depends on it.