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Legal Debate Swirls Around Calls for Mask Mandate in IA

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The advocacy group #Masks4All says Iowa is among just a handful of states to not require any kind of mask compliance in public spaces. (Adobe Stock)
The advocacy group #Masks4All says Iowa is among just a handful of states to not require any kind of mask compliance in public spaces. (Adobe Stock)

 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - IA - Producer, Contact
July 8, 2020

MUSCATINE, Iowa -- With COVID-19 cases flaring up in many parts of the country, there's a movement among local governments to issue mask mandates. In Iowa, however, municipal leaders who want to take such action say their hands are tied.

Some parts of Iowa are seeing a resurgence of coronavirus cases after the state loosened business restrictions. Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson said she wanted to do more to protect the public, with more case activity in and around her city. She issued a mandate for residents to wear masks in public, but was rebuffed by county and state leaders.

Broderson said her legal team has been looking into the issue.

"They have assured me that the Iowa Constitution gives 'home rule' to cities," she said, "and certainly, in an emergency situation, the mayor has the opportunity to make whatever proclamation is needed to protect their city, and we stand by that."

While the proclamation still stands, the question of enforcement hasn't been resolved. County officials have said the mayor overstepped her authority because Iowa law doesn't allow cities to issue such mandates.

They cite opinions from the state attorney general, who has said local orders need to be consistent with action taken by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The governor has resisted a statewide mask mandate, saying it should be up to individuals to decide whether to wear one.

The Republican governor's latest emergency proclamation urged Iowans to follow guidelines issued by the state Health Department, which do not call for a mask requirement. Similar legal questions between state and local authority have popped up over issuing stay-at-home orders.

Des Moines community activist Tom Rendon said he thinks a statewide mandate would eliminate confusion and might convince more people to don face coverings.

"I would say let's at least make sure our leadership is on board," he said, "and then I think getting 100% compliance would be work to do. But I would be much rather fighting this on a public-health front with that kind of support."

Rendon said he'd like state leadership to be more responsive to the latest phase of the pandemic, citing a mask rule issued by the governor of Texas following a surge of cases there.

For local residents who argue that their personal freedoms are being violated, Broderson said, a public health emergency takes precedence.

"Public safety overrides individual freedoms," she said. "That's why you can't smoke in public."

Medical experts have said wearing face masks is a key step in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The state health guidelines are online at

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