So far, just in the past week, it’s happened in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, California, Washington and Michigan. At least. Residents have been told that they must wear masks in public indoor spaces, and outdoors in crowded spaces.
Noncompliance comes with various penalties depending on the state. Here in Michigan it’s a $500 fine. Your mileage may vary, of course.
For the record, I do not have a problem substantively with having the public wear masks. It is not that great an imposition, it clearly serves as a useful layer of protection against the contagion and it’s better than another lockdown any day of the week.
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Disagree if you want, I guess, but the purpose of this column is not to complain about the masks.
The purpose, rather, is to point out the startling fact that none of these mandates has involved any action by a state legislature. They have all been handed down unilaterally by state governors.
That is alarming. This is not how laws are made in this country, and make no mistake, these are laws. When the state tells you that you must engage in a certain behavior, and that you can be punished if you don’t, a law has been established. Laws are made by the elected representatives of the people. At least they were until the Year of our Lord 2020.
Now, because it’s an emergency, or really important, or whatever the reason . . . state legislatures are sidelined and governors can simply make whatever laws they want. State constitutions rule, unless people are getting sick, in which case they are cast aside.
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Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the mask orders, the fact of the matter is they should be put to legislative votes. There is no state constitution in the country that allows governors to simply make laws on their own. The entire purpose of legislative bodies is to make sure that people have representation in the process of lawmaking. Governors are not even allowed to submit a proposed law unless it has a legislative sponsor. It can be a slow and frustrating process, but its purpose is to make sure those engaged in lawmaking are accessible and accountable – as well as to ensure there is a separation of powers to keep the various branches accountable to one another.
Normally, people recognize the importance of this balance, and object to one branch seizing too much power at the expense of the others. But there are times when that cognizance wanes, and such time is when people are in a panic. They feel that speed and decisiveness are so crucial there simply isn’t enough time for the niceties of constitutional government.
I agree that there are legitimate emergency situations that justify emergency declarations. The problem is when there’s no limit or check on a governor’s power to declare, maintain and extend the emergency. As of now, most states have been in this emergency for four months. That is no longer an emergency. It has become a way of life.
Four months is more than enough time for legislative bodies to become engaged in the necessary solutions to the problem. It is also long past time when the media should be asking governors how long they’re going to operate under dictatorial power, and why the representatives of the people remain sidelined. But they’re not asking. They’re so caught up on each day’s record caseload, they’ve lost interest in the fact that representative democracy only works when it’s representative and democratic.
If these mask mandates are so necessary, they have state legislatures vote to establish them. You are not oppressed by wearing a mask, but your rights are absolutely in jeopardy when your governor decides to operate as a power unto himself or herself, and your media thinks that’s perfectly fine.