Arizona businesses could ignore local mask mandates under bill approved at Legislature

Andrew Oxford
Arizona Republic
Arizona state Capitol building

The state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to let businesses ignore local mask requirements that several cities and towns have embraced amid a pandemic that has killed more than 16,000 people in Arizona.

The proposal’s sponsor said House Bill 2770 would merely give businesses a choice of whether to enforce the public health measures and give consumers a choice of whether to patronize businesses that do so.

“It’s about the individual rights of these business owners as Americans,” said state Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale.

But Democrats said the bill was plainly dangerous as the number of new cases and deaths decline but remain above the levels seen over the summer.

“We are not done with this pandemic. There are new variants coming in. It’s great people are getting vaccinated. But we need to be vigilant,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley.

The measure narrowly passed along party lines, 31-28 with Republicans in favor and one member not voting, and now moves to the state Senate.

Public health officials have urged the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But several Republican legislators have flouted the Capitol's own public health precautions and argued Wednesday, contrary to public health research, that masks are not effective and that some people who died of COVID-19 had not actually died from the disease.

At one point, Chaplik wondered aloud why masks are recommended to stop the spread of COVID-19 but not other diseases, such as AIDS (the latter is spread most commonly through sexual contact or needle sharing, not through the air).

In any event, Chaplik said allowing businesses to exempt themselves from mask mandates would take those businesses out of the position of having to enforce mask policies among customers.

The North Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Arizona Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents convenience stores, backed the bill.

The Arizona Medical Association and the labor union representing grocery store workers opposed it.

Some lawmakers underscored that COVID-19 is still killing Arizonans daily.

“Every day that I come here and I hear these debates, I am absolutely haunted by the screams of a young girl as we fought to save her father’s life in a business,” said Rep. Melody Hernandez, a Democrat from Tempe and paramedic.

And others pointed to how the pandemic had upended everyday life.

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, recounted that staff at her jewelry store were accosted both by customers who refused to wear a mask as required inside the business and by customers who insisted the policy be strictly, totally enforced.

Osborne voted for the bill after stating: “I’m no communist.”

Contact Andrew Oxford at or on Twitter at @andrewboxford.