PHOENIX — An incoming state senator said she has no intention with complying with a newly issued directive that anyone entering the building must be masked.
Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, told Capitol Media Services she has no intention of complying with the policy created by Senate President Karen Fann. Townsend contends the Prescott Republican has no authority in this area.
And Townsend is prepared for a fight.
“I’ve already told them where I stand,” she said. “What are they going to do? Arrest me?”
What can be done, if the rules are followed, is simply refuse to allow Townsend into the building.
“They’re going to physically block me from the building?” she asked. “Well, that’d be fun,” promising to invite a reporter there when she attempts entry.
Townsend pointed out that there is no formal rule requiring masks — or, for that matter, any particular attire. And formal rules require a majority vote of the chamber.
But Fann believes she’s on solid ground, citing an existing — and approved — formal rule which gives her, as president, not just control of the Senate chamber but “all of parts of the Senate wing and all other areas and buildings used exclusively by the Senate.”
Fann, however, indicated she’s unlikely to back down — even if it brings legislative action to a halt.
“Failure to adhere (to these rules) could result in lack of quorums, inability to conduct voting and other work we need to accomplish,” Fann warned. And the ultimate result, Fann said, would be shutting down the session.
In her memo to senators, Fann acknowledged that the issue of masks has become a political lightning rod. But the senate president said she hopes that having these rules will put that issue to bed — at least for legislative business — and “eliminate some of the divisiveness we have encountered throughout this pandemic.”
That does not appear to be working.
The rules are designed to facilitate actual committee meetings, including allowing members of the public to participate in hearings.
But it remains doubtful that supporters or foes of legislation will be able to pack hearing rooms as was done in the past. That’s because visitors will be allowed into the building only to actually participate in a committee hearing or for a prescheduled meeting with a senator or staffer.
The House is expected to announce its own rules this coming week.
They are expected to be similar, with Fann saying the Senate rules “were developed in collaboration with the House for uniformity and consistency for all within the Capitol community that participate in legislative proceedings.”
The rules come as lawmakers grapple with how to conduct business amid the continued threat of infection from the coronavirus.
It starts with the idea of limiting the chances that someone who is infected will even enter the building. Under the rules, anyone wishing entry, including lawmakers, staff and visitors, will be subject to temperature checks.
Then there’s the requirement for masks.
A legislator or staffer in his or her own individual closed office will be free to unmask. And there even are allowances for people who have their own dedicated work space, which can include a desk or cubicle.
“However, if one person enters another person’s dedicated work space, then everyone in that space must wear a mask or other appropriate face covering,” the rules read. “There are no exceptions.”
And not just any mask or piece of cloth covering just part of the face.
“Masks or other face covering must cover the nose and mouth and should fit snugly against the sides of the face,” according to the policy.
There is a provision for those who are “medically unable” to wear a mask according to their doctor. They are required to wear a face shield that covers the mouth and nose.
But that’s not a preferred solution, with the rules urging these people to work remotely.
There is a separate rule for “social distancing” of 6 feet between individuals, along with no shaking hands or other physical contact.
The rules also create a new duty for Senate pages, requiring them to disinfect hearing rooms and the caucus rooms after each meeting.
And there will be free testing for staffers and lawmakers during certain hours of each day.