Little reverses McGeachin’s executive order on masks

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Gov. Brad Little has reversed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s executive order, calling it an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”

Little’s new executive order repeals McGeachin’s, and allows local government entities to issue mask mandates once again. Read the full order here.

McGeachin, who is challenging Little in the 2022 Republican primary for governor, surprised the state Thursday by issuing her order banning state and local entities from imposing mask mandates while briefly acting as governor while Little traveled out of state for a conference.

Little’s office said he notified McGeachin before the announcement. They also said Little’s office has been working with the state’s school districts and agencies to keep them updated. McGeachin told Idaho Reports Thursday that she didn’t notify districts before issuing her order.

“This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny – something we all oppose,” Little said in a statement. “How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months.”

Read Little’s full statement below.

Idaho has never had a statewide mask mandate, but throughout the height of the pandemic, some cities, counties, health districts and school districts chose to implement their own. Most of those have been repealed, with the exception of schools.

McGeachin’s order came in the middle of the school day on Thursday, leaving school districts with mandates scrambling to consult legal counsel. She told Idaho Reports that she wasn’t concerned about children younger than 12, who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated.

“That’s not the population that is at risk,” she said, adding that nothing prevents teachers from wearing masks if they wish to do so.

While COVID-19 complications in children are rare, some children do experience a serious side effect called Multisymptom Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports 26 Idaho children have been diagnosed with MIS-C due to COVID.

The repealed order didn’t allow for any government entities to mandate masks of their employees, with ambiguous exemptions for health care facilities. That may not allow the state’s laboratory to mandate that workers wear mask while handling samples submitted by public health districts for testing, or welders from wearing face coverings while welding. 

On Thursday evening, McGeachin used her executive order to solicit campaign donations for her gubernatorial run.

After Little’s Friday announcement, McGeachin posted a statement on Facebook saying the governor “chose to revoke your personal freedom by rescinding my order and imposing mask mandates on thousands of Idaho children, rejecting the conservative solutions embraced by leaders like Gov. Abbott in Texas and Gov. DeSantis in Florida.”

“I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local. It is your God-given right to make your own health decisions, and no state, city, or school district ever has the authority to violate your unalienable rights.

“As your Lt. Governor, I remain undeterred and unwavering in my commitment to defend your rights and freedoms against all who would violate them. Now, more than ever, we must stand together against those who prioritize their own power above individual liberty.”

We’ll have more on this week’s Idaho Reports. Idaho Reports airs Fridays at 8 pm on Idaho Public Television, and is available online at idahoptv.org/idahoreports.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 28, 2021

Gov. Little defends local control, denounces Lt. Governor’s irresponsible abuse of power

Boise, Idaho – Governor Brad Little issued Executive Order 2021-08 today – “Repealing Executive Order 2021-07 to Restore Local Control” – and provided the following statement to the people of Idaho:

My fellow Idahoans.

We could talk ‘til we’re blue in the face about masks and whether they work – whether mask mandates work – but I think the people of Idaho are tired of hearing about it.

With the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine and steady declines in case counts and hospitalizations, masks are, thankfully, becoming a thing of the past.

For the record, though, I have opposed a statewide mask mandate all along because I don’t think top-down mandates change behavior the way personal choice does.

But, as your Governor, when it came to masks, I also didn’t undermine separately elected officials who, under Idaho law, are given authorities to take measures they believe will protect the health and safety of the people they serve.

An executive order that was issued while I was out of state this week runs contrary to a basic conservative principle – the government closest to the people governs best.

The executive order unilaterally and unlawfully takes away authorities given to the state’s mayors, local school board trustees, and others.

Just like the states begrudge federal government mandates, local governments in Idaho resent the state doing the same thing.

The executive order usurps legislative powers. It replicates a bill that was debated considerably in the Legislature but failed, making law with the stroke of a pen.

The action that took place while I was traveling this week is not gubernatorial.

The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.

Taking the earliest opportunity to act solitarily on a highly politicized, polarizing issue without conferring with local jurisdictions, legislators, and the sitting Governor is, simply put, an abuse of power.

This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny – something we all oppose.

How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months.

Furthermore, the executive order presents some pretty alarming consequences. For example, we would not be able to require safety measures for social workers visiting homes of at-risk individuals, or workers in our state testing lab, or employees at congregate facilities that are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious disease, threatening loss of life and added strain on the health care system we all depend on.


The executive order also conflicts with other laws on the books.

This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor.

Let me offer some advice as Idaho’s duly elected Governor – governing in a silo is NOT governing.

I am always reluctant to engage in political ploys, especially when I have been steadfast in meeting the simultaneous goals of protecting both lives and livelihoods.

I do not like petty politics. I do not like political stunts over the rule of law.

However, the significant consequences of the Lt. Governor’s flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess.

With my own executive order today, I will be returning Idaho law to what it was before 11 a.m. on Thursday.

To the people of Idaho, I want to thank you once again, as I have many times throughout the pandemic, for protecting your loved ones and getting us through some of the darkest months of our state’s history.

As your Governor, I have worked hard to protect lives and critical health care capacity for the entire state while keeping families safe and businesses and schools open.

Every decision has been a balancing act, and I do believe we achieved a balance. We managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals, and we have kept our state open longer than almost every other state.

Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation and the most financially solvent state budget. With our record budget surplus, we provided Idahoans historic tax relief and made strategic investments in Building Idaho’s Future for our roads, schools, broadband, and other critical areas.

Few states can claim that kind of success.

It is an honor for me to serve as your Governor, and I remain committed to working responsibly to achieve our shared goal of making Idaho the place where our children and grandchildren choose to stay.

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