MASK DEBATE: Utah legislators said Mayor Mendenhall can’t enforce face masks in schools

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah legislators questioned Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s face mask order Sunday night.

They said Mendenhall does not have the authority to require K-12 students to wear face masks.

Rep. Mike Shultz, the House Majority Whip, said the mayor cannot enforce the mask mandate.

Mayor Mendenhall insisted she can, in an emergency order found here.

Schultz said there will be legislation to further clarify what constitutes an emergency and what powers are granted during an emergency.

“To me, this is a separation of powers issue, and clearly the mayor does not have the authority to do what she is doing,” says Schultz (R-Hooper).

On Friday Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall declared a local emergency and exercised emergency powers to mandate face masks in K-12 schools for all staff, students, teachers, and visitors.

“This was never intended for a mayor to unilaterally make that decision,” explains Schultz. “Clearly the legislature spelled out a pathway forward for this to happen. She did not like the outcome of that process so she decided to take matters into her own hands, which is totally not what the intent was.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Mendenhall cites the rising cases of the Delta variant, increased Covid-19 hospitalizations, and the CDC’s guidance on mask-wearing to affirm her declaration of a local emergency requiring masks in SLC schools.

“An order like this which mayors throughout the state of Utah have authority to make does carry the weight of law,” Mendenhall shares. “That said, the state legislature could make a determination to make changes to our authority to do so.

Salt Lake City Schools start on Tuesday so when asked about the upcoming first day, Schultz said this decision cannot be made by just one person.

“For me, it is a parent’s choice,” states Schultz. “I think it is putting the principals and teachers in a real awkward position.”

Mendenhall said the legislation does not apply to mayors throughout the state of Utah.

“They did tie the hands of every school district in the state of Utah from being able to make these decisions but not mayor’s,” says Mendenhall. “It is a data-led decision, but I think it is a very common-sense measure in the Salt Lake City school district and I hope it will be considered in other parts of the state.”

Schultz said legislative attorneys spoke with Mendenhall and told her she does not have the authority to do this.

Mendenhall said the city attorneys determined it is within her legal capacity to declare this local emergency.

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