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Linn County supervisors to ask Gov. Kim Reynolds for local control over mandating face masks

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Karolina Grabowska

During both their meetings this week, the Linn County Board of Supervisors discussed a face covering resolution, but have not taken action yet. The issue is anticipated to be taken up again next week, possibly at the board’s Monday meeting.

Supervisor Ben Rogers said he put the issue on the board’s agenda this week after officials in Johnson County and Iowa City passed their own respective mask mandates.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation on July 21 requiring almost everyone in the city to wear face coverings while in public, or face possible fines. Two days later, on July 23, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution mandating face coverings in public.

Johnson County’s mandate, however, is not legally enforceable due to the different powers counties and cities have. Johnson County’s Board of Health is working on an ordinance so the mandate can be enforced.

Linn County Supervisors are taking a different approach because they don’t want to pass a mandate that is unenforceable. The county is instead working on a resolution with local mayors and the county’s Board of Health that calls on Gov. Kim Reynolds to allow local officials to make decisions for their jurisdictions.

“It’s … basically asking permission to have local control, which feels very odd to do in a resolution,” Rogers said on Wednesday, adding that there will not be an enforcement component in the resolution since counties don’t have that authority.

If Linn County did approve a resolution requiring face masks, it would only cover unincorporated, rural parts of the county, and there would be no way to enforce it, said Lisa Epp of the Linn County Attorney’s Office.

Epp told the supervisors on Monday that cities have “a slighter edge” than counties. Rogers said people are surprised to learn that the county can’t issue mandates in cities that have their own city councils.

“Cities, perhaps, are taking a different viewpoint on that, and I won’t comment on whether I think their mandates would survive legal challenge, but they do have a code section … that counties don’t have — an analogous section that gives [cities] just a slighter edge on some sort of police power,” Epp said.

Epp said an ordinance does have an enforcement component unlike a resolution or proclamation but added that “the local boards of health face the same constraints from their superiors at the state level that perhaps might be obstacles for us.”

“Now, in our case, the state governor’s office and the state board of health has a disaster problem and has given what they consider a mandate and guidance on how personal protective equipment should be managed,” Epp said. “If localities are looking to join in in that field, it’s uncertain, it’s unclear, whether they are able to do something more restrictive or not at this point.”

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The decision to require Iowans to wear masks in public is up to Gov. Kim Reynolds. She can issue a statewide mandate or delegate the authority to cities and counties. Reynolds has indicated that she wants to leave it up to individual Iowans to choose for themselves.

Both Reynolds and Attorney General Tom Miller have said cities are not permitted to create face covering mandates because the governor’s public health emergency proclamation does not impose such a requirement or explicitly empower cities to do so.

The Iowa City proclamation cites home rule provisions in state law that allow a mayor to govern by proclamation when an emergency has been declared. It also relies on Iowa Supreme Court decisions and provisions in state law that give cities the power to create regulation that is “more stringent than imposed by state law, unless a state law provides otherwise.”

Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi joined nine other public health officials from the state asking Reynolds to mandate the use of cloth face coverings.

Supervisor Brent Oleson said the Mount Vernon City Council is crafting their own resolution that would require face coverings. The issue is slated to be discussed at the council’s meeting Monday evening.


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