Local officials in Allegheny County squashed a new indoor mask ordinance on Tuesday after skipping the traditional vetting process and jumping right to a final vote.
Councilwomen Bethany Hallam and Olivia Bennett sponsored the proposal, which would have required masks indoors and for outdoor gatherings with more than 250 people. It would have expired on April 30, 2022, unless repealed sooner.
“This is not about being political,” Bennett said. “This is not about trying to do the hot thing. This is about keeping people alive.”
Ten of the council’s 15 members voted against the ordinance after agreeing to forgo a second reading or refer it to a committee for further discussion, noting that adopting such a rule is beyond the panel’s authority.
“I just don’t believe that it’s this body’s role to tell people out there how to live their lives,” Councilman Sam DeMarco said. “I think this whole thing is misplaced. We don’t have the authority to do this.”
The vote came after the county’s solicitor said he couldn’t determine whether the ordinance was “legal or illegal,” but that it might be more enforceable if promulgated as a regulation through the Allegheny County Department of Health.
Hallam urged council members to give the ordinance real consideration – a sentiment that Councilmen Paul Klein and DeWitt Walton shared.
“I think the only proper way to proceed forward with this is to have a committee meeting or multiple committee meetings,” Hallam said. “I do not think it’s fair to not have public comment on this issue before voting this up or down.”
“I think the more responsible approach would have been to send it to committee where we could have gotten some answers to these questions,” Klein said.
The decision comes after Gov. Tom Wolf said he’d leave it up to local officials to adopt more mitigation efforts that align with the rate of infection in their region. The Allegheny County Department of Health recorded 297 new cases of COVID-19 and one death over the last seven days. Since the pandemic began, the county has reported more than 114,000 infections and nearly 2,100 deaths.