It will not be a surprise to hear that people who go to the Capitol for the legislative session include tribalists who refuse to wear face coverings. People with greater concern for their health and that of others aren’t happy about it.
A letter from a grassroots group, the Citizens First Congress, to the leaders of the House and Senate:
Thank you for mandating masks, requiring social distancing, and the other precautions you are taking to protect public health during this pandemic-impacted legislative session.
We have a couple of concerns we ask your help to address. Please increase enforcement of the mask mandate, and allow virtual testimony for members of the public.
The mask mandate at the Capitol, while being followed by lawmakers, needs better enforcement.
In one instance a gentleman in committee claimed that he has a medical condition that prevents him from wearing a mask. We are sympathetic to people with medical conditions making masks problematic, but not wearing a mask is not only a threat to their own individual health, they also become a threat to every other person.
In another instance, a witness waiting to testify in committee simply refused to wear a mask in the waiting room. We also had members also waiting to testify on an issue very important to them. They should not be forced to choose between testifying or jeopardizing their health.
When we pointed out that people were not complying with the mask mandate, legislative staff have been quick to offer masks, but sometimes those masks have been refused. In our view, Capitol Police should have insisted that masks be worn or escorted people out of the building.
We also ask you to allow virtual testimony for people who do not feel safe coming to testify in person. The CDC recommends avoiding contact with anyone outside our immediate family.
We have members in all 75 counties in Arkansas who are concerned about many of the issues before the Arkansas legislature. They have the expertise and life experience that can inform the legislative process to create better laws. But some of them are at higher risk to COVID-19, or are concerned about exposing their families to increased COVID-19 risks by traveling to the Capitol and testifying in person.
We urge you to strengthen the enforcement of your excellent existing COVID-19 precautions and to allow for virtual testimony before the legislature. We appreciate your consideration and your leadership.
Scharmel Roussel, William El-Amin
Citizens First Congress
Of course, they are right. And of course, if enforcement is attempted, we will be treated to ugly scenes by people who think the U.S. Constitution protects the right to spit a deadly virus on other people. If legislators are allowed to participate in committees virtually, so should the public if the alternative is being exposed to expectorating **holes. What are the odds that a number of the lawbreakers (there IS a statewide mask mandate remember) are from the tribe that holds the 2nd Amendment holier than all the rest of the Constitution?