The pandemic has exacerbated the trend of growing federal power, and Republican state legislators are concerned about it. New mask guidance has spurred a backlash from local leaders who are now anxious about the possibility of further restrictions, including a vaccine mandate and new lockdowns.
In addition, a number of states are fighting against federal restrictions included in the COVID-19 relief plan on tax cuts.
The federal government is exercising its rights far beyond what the constitution allows, according to Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican.
“That’s probably the biggest threat we face,” Adams told The Epoch Times on July 30.
State legislators are “very capable to manage their affairs. And we really don’t need that federal overreach,” he said.
Adams, who’s also chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), hosted the organization’s annual meeting in Utah from July 28 to July 30. Thousands of state and local leaders gathered for the ALEC conference in a Salt Lake City hotel to discuss major policy issues.
Republican legislators reacted to the federal government’s mask mandates after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly changed its guidance on July 27, recommending that U.S. residents wear masks throughout most of the country, regardless of their vaccination status.
“In many ways, not only is it wrong according to the Constitution, but it doesn’t make sense,” Adams said, referring to federal overreach during the pandemic.
Washington should allow the states to be able to function and make their own decisions so they can compare and choose the right policies, he said.
“One size doesn’t fit all, nor does one size give us the ability to have that innovative comparison of different procedures,” Adams said.
In May, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks or practice physical distancing in any indoor or outdoor settings. However, in their latest announcement, health officials said universal masking is essential to stop the spread of the Delta variant.
Statewide mandates are pointless in a large geographical state like Kansas, which has very low cases in a lot of areas, according to Kansas state Sen. Beverly Gossage.
“I’ve had COVID. And I’ve also had the COVID vaccine after that,” Gossage, a Republican, told The Epoch Times.
“As a senator, I felt like I wanted to send the right message. However, this should be left up to the individuals and their doctor. For them to mandate that you also wear a mask even if you’re vaccinated is actually silly.”
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, took strict measures to combat the pandemic this year, which received backlash from the Republican-led legislature. State lawmakers passed a bill this past spring to curtail the emergency powers of the governor to make statewide mandates. The bill, which was signed by the governor, also limits the power of local public health officials.
Effects of Lockdowns
Indiana state Sen. James Buck, a Republican, said he’s worried about the lasting effects of lockdowns imposed during the pandemic.
In an interview with The Epoch Times, he cited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a positive example and said: “If you really put confidence in the locals and their health departments, they can do an admirable job without making it such a blanket issue.
“The government is best which governs least. And I think when the federal government tries to dictate downward, that just forces the states to govern downward, and the locals are just caught.”
Buck said these mandates have been “catastrophic” for businesses and employment.
Idaho house Rep. Julie Yamamoto, a Republican, echoed the same sentiments about lockdowns.
“We were very fortunate, in the state of Idaho, that our economy has been robust and rebounding, but we are still feeling the effects of those businesses that were shut down,” she told The Epoch Times. “Some of those businesses will probably never come back. So I’m worried.”
President Joe Biden recently urged local governments to pay people $100 to get vaccinated. He also set new rules requiring federal workers to show they’re fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
According to the CDC’s data, more than 163.8 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated, accounting for nearly 50 percent of the population.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on July 30 told Fox News that the Biden administration was “looking into” the possibility of a federal vaccine mandate. Her statement drew a lot of attention, and hours later she posted a correction on Twitter, stating, “There will be no federal mandate.”
“A national vaccine requirement is not under consideration at this time. That’s where we are with that,” deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also said at a press briefing at the White House on July 30.
Federal Ban on State Tax Cuts
The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by Biden in March provided $350 billion in fiscal aid for state and local governments. A provision in the bill, however, creates a complication for states as it prohibits using the money directly or indirectly to reduce net tax revenue, implying that states cannot cut taxes.
“I was really offended at the idea that the federal government would pass a law that says a state cannot choose to cut its taxes. You know, Washington is growing,” Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, a Republican, told The Epoch Times.
“I wish that they would keep their fingers out of Utah’s tax policy.”
Legislators argue that the provision is against the constitution and violates the principles of fiscal federalism. In addition, the word “indirectly” bothers many legislators, who say it creates ambiguity. More than a dozen states, including Utah, have filed lawsuits to challenge the provision.
The ALEC publication “Rich States, Poor States” has ranked Utah as the top state for economic outlook for the past 14 years. Utah has implemented key policy reforms in line with free-market principles, which has strengthened the state’s economy, according to experts.
“Our economy has been going great. And I hope that Utah’s able to cut taxes,” Fillmore said. “This year, we’ve got more money than we need to spend. And I would love to return some of that to taxpayers.”
State governments have received more federal funding than they need to fight the pandemic, and now they’re looking for ways to spend it wisely, according to Jonathan Williams, chief economist at the ALEC.
The provision that bars states from cutting taxes is the “biggest assault on federalism,” he told The Epoch Times.
“There are lots of different legal arguments, and some of the preliminary rulings have been pretty positive for conservative state legislators to push back against this.”
ALEC is an organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism.
This year’s ALEC conference attracted legislators from both sides of the aisle. While most attendants were Republicans, there were some Democrats who joined the meeting as well.
“We had a lot more Democrats at this meeting than we have in the past,” Lisa Nelson, CEO of the ALEC, told The Epoch Times.
“I think there are a lot of Democrats who actually agree with our principals and agree with what we’re doing,” she said.
According to Nelson, the level of interest at this year’s meeting and the growth of the organization are signs that “at the state level, people understand and support limited government and free markets.”
But Washington doesn’t see it the same way, and that frustrates the state legislators, she said.