Idaho’s Lt. Governor Bans Mask Mandates While Governor Is Away On Business

Janice McGeachin seized the moment.

Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor used her power as acting governor on Thursday to issue an executive order banning the implementation of mask mandates in public spaces. In a tweet, McGeachin said she was looking out for “the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses.”

Never mind that such a statewide mask mandate, of the sort that might be issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, was never put in place to begin with.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) has been in Nashville, Tennessee, this week attending the Republican Governors Association conference. His office told HuffPost that he has been away since Tuesday morning, leaving two other members of his party in charge. First, Idaho’s Senate president pro tempore, Chuck Winder, served as governor until 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. Winder was succeeded by McGeachin, who took Little’s office by surprise with her actions.

“The Lt. Governor did not make Governor Little aware of her executive order ahead of time,” spokesperson Marissa Morrison Hyer told HuffPost.

On Twitter, McGeachin shared photographs of the signed document, writing: “Today, as acting Governor of the State of Idaho, I signed an Executive Order to protect the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses by prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions — including public schools — from imposing mask mandates in our state.”

The language of the executive order defines the “political subdivisions” of Idaho as any “county, city, public health district, public college, public university, public community college, public technical college, public library, public school school district, special purpose school district, or other district or municipality organized under any general or special law of this state.” The order does not cover any “federal building, hospital, or health care facility.”

Idaho never implemented a mask mandate on a statewide level, although cities such as Boise required masks in public places through much of the pandemic.

With half of all American adults fully vaccinated, however ― not to mention recent changes to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ― government-issued mask mandates are fading in places throughout the country. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean lifted her city’s mask mandate in public spaces earlier this month, though she emphasized that individual businesses could still choose to require masks.

McGeachin’s executive order, which does not cover individual businesses, went too far for some in her own party.

“What you have here is a solution in search of a problem,” Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke (R) told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s political theater.”

Little’s office is “reviewing” the executive order and plans to issue an expanded statement, Morrison Hyer said.

“Throughout the pandemic, Governor Little has been committed to protecting the health and safety of the people of Idaho and has emphasized the importance of Idahoans choosing to protect our neighbors and loved ones and keeping our economy and schools open,” she said. “Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues.”

The governor is expected to return Thursday evening.

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