Arizona judge strikes down state's ban on mask mandates in schools

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An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the manner in which Republican lawmakers passed a law to prohibit schools from mandating mask mandates violated the state's constitution. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the manner in which Republican lawmakers passed a law to prohibit schools from mandating mask mandates violated the state's constitution. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 28 (UPI) -- An Arizona judge has ruled it unconstitutional for the state to ban mask mandates in schools by passing the provision within a budget bill.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled in her 17-page opinion Monday that the state violated its constitution when it passed four laws packed by Republican lawmakers into the state's budget.

The ruling comes in a challenge brought by the Arizona School Boards Association and others in August against the state concerning the four laws that ban public schools from implementing mask mandates, penalize educators teaching topics that present "any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race" and allows for the attorney general to seek civil action against a government employee who impedes or prevents a public school from operating at any time, among other provisions.

Cooper said the bills specifically violated the single-subject requirements that protect the legislative process by barring legislators from combining unrelated provisions into a single bill.

"The issue here is not what the legislature decided but how it decided what it did," she wrote, adding that the single-subject requirement was intended to prevent the practice of "logrolling," where lawmakers lump multiple subjects together into one bill so that a vote to support a favorable topic supports all of them.

"The bill is classic logrolling -- a medley of special interests cobbled together to force a vote for all or none," she wrote.

The ruling was cheered Monday by educators and their allies.

"ASBA applauds the ruling today that allows school boards to exercise local decision making, based on local conditions, in determining whether to have a mask requirement in their schools," Sheila Harrison-Williams, ASBA executive director, said in a letter Monday to the association's members.

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona's Public Instruction superintendent, described the tactic used by the GOP lawmakers in June to pass the policies without public comment as "an assault on the democratic process."

"Our school communities are tired of being political pawns in dangerous attempts to subvert democracy and ignore science," she said in a statement on Monday. "Students and their families have worked hard to learn safely among their friends and teachers, and they deserve to enjoy the remainder of the school year without further distraction."

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said they will be appealing the ruling.

"It is unfortunate that left-wing groups want to undermine the legislative process and indoctrinate our children with critical race theory and force vaccines on those who don't want them," he said in a statement. "I will continue to stand for the rule of law and the people of Arizona."

Arizona is one of several GOP-led states that have sought to restrict COVID-19 mitigating measures, including mask and vaccine mandates.

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