Monday, January 10, 2022

Arizona Legislature does away with COVID-19 restrictions in 2022, even as omicron surges

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2022 at 11:00 AM

With near-record COVID-19 caseloads and hospitalizations driven by the highly infectious omicron variant sweeping Arizona, the state legislature will convene today, Jan. 10, with almost no restrictions in place aimed at limiting spread of the virus at the Capitol.

Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate will require masks. Plastic shields that had been constructed around lawmakers’ desks have been dismantled, and there will be no social distancing requirements. 

“Our goal is business as usual, with a few additions,” said Kim Quintero, a spokeswoman for Senate President Karen Fann and the Senate Republican caucus. 

The only notable difference from pre-pandemic times will be that some legislators will be allowed to vote remotely — but only from their legislative offices at the Capitol, and only if they have a doctor’s note.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers told the Arizona Mirror that legislators who can’t come to the Capitol because they are sick — or for any other reason — will not be able to vote remotely. The Senate is implementing a similar rule, Quintero said.

And in both chambers, lawmakers who are authorized to vote remotely won’t be able to participate in debates or discussions about legislation.

The lack of COVID-19 mitigation efforts outraged Rep. Athena Salman, a Tempe Democrat who is pregnant. She wrote on Twitter Friday morning that her due date is Jan. 11 — the second day of the legislative session — and blamed Bowers for ignoring her request to work remotely and then eliminating the possibility for all lawmakers. 

“What I’m asking for isn’t anything new. Had I given birth last year, health protocols the Speaker adopted would have guaranteed protection for me & my baby. But GOP leadership—comprised of only men—have decided to play political games with the life of me & my future child,” she wrote on Twitter.

The changes stand in stark contrast to last year, when the state was facing record high COVID-19 caseloads and vaccine deployment only in its earliest stages last year and the legislature restricted public access, required facemasks and temperature checks, and allowed robust remote participation from both elected officials and the public.

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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