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Legislature begins session Tuesday; to mask or not to mask?

HD 28 Representative Brian King
HD 28 Representative Brian King

The 2022 legislative session starts on Tuesday, and despite an explosion of COVID-19 cases statewide, it hasn’t established mask-wearing or other mitigation measures.

House District 28 Democrat Brian King represents a small portion of Park City. He said the Democratic caucus recently sent a letter to House Speaker Brad Wilson requesting he continue last year’s COVID protocols in the upcoming session.

"Let's make sure that people are masked in public, and committee meetings on the floor of the House that the public to the extent that they do come to the Capitol, that they're required to be masked. This is just common sense for crying out loud. And I don't know whether the speaker is going to go in that direction. What we've seen in terms of protocol at this point from the speaker is that we're not going to be requiring masking on the hill."

King said he hopes the legislature follows public health guidelines requiring mask-wearing indoors and that Speaker Wilson is not deciding based on politics.
"There are some protocols that the speaker has put in place for the house involving mandatory testing for interns, suggested testing, and rapid test availability for the representatives themselves-- but silent about masking."

Mike Kohler HD 54
Mike Kohler HD 54

District 54 Republican Mike Kohler represents all of Wasatch County and the area inside Park City municipal boundaries. He plans to wear a mask during the session because he has a family member with underlying health issues.

Some legislators are reportedly bringing bills this session to eliminate local authority to impose mask mandates and other COVID mitigations. Kohler said has not heard of specific initiatives but believes they'll have to look at possible changes early in the session.

"We've got to deal with a few things, the old mandates, if you will, under delta and under the first rendition of this virus, were much different related to the vaccines and how they responded. And it appears the omicron version doesn't really care if you've been vaccinated or not.”

He says the Wasatch School District can't keep up with test to stay protocols, which kick in when 30 people test positive in a school building.

"And the schools are having a difficult time because the rules don't apply when they can't even test because there's so many of them getting infected. Gotta change the rules somehow because right now they have no way to make up or even comply with the rule as it is."

Kohler said he couldn't predict all the changing dynamics of the pandemic virus but in general, supports local control.

“I don't believe, and I haven't heard any efforts to try and change what we did last session where the local health department and the local county council have the say on how it goes. So I would probably support anything at this point in time unless there's new information. I'm not inclined to vote to change that. I still think local control is better."

Kohler said he plans to communicate with constituents often during this legislative season. His phone number is 801-420-6158.

The legislature meets on Tuesday, January 18, for the annual 45-day session ending on March 4.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.