Story updated to include statement from State Senator Lois Kolkhorst.
State Representative Ben Leman and State Senator Lois Kolkhorst are not in favor of mandatory mask orders, but do support asking Texans to voluntarily wear masks where appropriate.
In a Facebook post last week, Leman said he does not support a mandate that “criminalizes citizens for not wearing a mask”, saying the government should instead focus on educating the public on the wearing of masks.
Kolkhorst, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, shared similar sentiments in a statement to KWHI this (Monday) afternoon, saying from a policy perspective that she agrees with the usefulness of masks, but feels “there is a time and place for face coverings”.
Leman said he has been “heartbroken” to see businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 response, adding in his opinion that forcing these mandates onto businesses “feels like adding insult to injury”. He said the change in habits caused by the coronavirus has already led numerous businesses to have to “make the toughest calls an employer can make”.
Kolkhorst said, instead of mandatory orders, the state should ask citizens to voluntarily wear them when they feel it is suitable, particularly at public gatherings where social distancing is not possible. She said, as a government, she feels emphasis should be put on personal responsibility during the COVID-19 response, rather than “requiring our already burdened businesses or law enforcement to enforce a mandatory mask ordinance on the public”.
Leman said he appreciates the efforts of some local officials to either not enforce or push back against the statewide mandates set forth by Governor Greg Abbott, specifically naming Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, who issued a blanket order allowing his constituents to circumvent the limit on public gatherings. He said he feels it is “pretty clear that people are tired of the government telling them what to do”.
Kolkhorst said, with Texas being a large state, she would prefer to see “a more targeted approach that allows for regional solutions and fewer restrictions to our personal freedoms”.
Leman asked the public to wear masks, stay home when possible, and be smart when going out. He said it seems like “common sense” that masks do limit the chance of asymptomatic patients unknowingly spreading the virus, but citizens should not need a doctor’s note if they choose not to wear a mask.
Full statement below from State Representative Ben Leman:
Many of you have reached out and asked how I feel about mandates for wearing a mask. I do not support a mandate that criminalizes citizens for not wearing a mask. I do, however, support asking Texans to voluntarily wear a mask where appropriate. As a representative for seven rural counties, I have been heartbroken to see so many businesses crippled by the COVID response. Pushing these mask mandates onto businesses feels like adding insult to injury. These are largely family-owned businesses, some of which have been around longer than I have been alive. Our change in habits has already forced many more businesses to make the toughest calls an employer can make. As these businesses claw their way back — eroding the unemployment rate — the government should be working harder to educate the public.
Several law enforcement agencies are choosing not to enforce based on the order’s language. I appreciate County Judge Mark Keough in nearby Montgomery County giving a blanket order allowing his constituents to circumvent the limit on public gatherings.
I understand and share your frustrations. It’s pretty clear that people are tired of the government telling them what to do. And since we are also known as the Friendship State, I’d like to take a different approach.
As your friend and State Representative, I’m asking you to wear a mask when appropriate. No, you shouldn’t need a note from a doctor. Stay home if possible; and be smart if you have to go out.
It seems like common sense that wearing a mask does limit your ability to unknowingly spread the virus if you are asymptomatic. If covering your mouth when you cough during cold season is acceptable, then it is reasonable to think that masks can dramatically limit the spread of airborne germs and viral contagions like COVID.
Businesses already face a tough road forward as they find safe ways to bring employees back and resume normal business. Many have already adapted, but online commerce is still new to many rural communities.
Full statement below from State Senator Lois Kolkhorst:
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human services, I am keenly aware of the ongoing debate over the response to COVID-19. From a policy perspective, I do agree with the usefulness of masks but I do not support a mask mandate that seeks to criminalize people for not wearing one.
There is a time and place for face coverings, and we should be asking Texans to voluntarily wear them when they feel it is appropriate, for instance at public gatherings when social distancing is not possible. Personally I have at times worn a mask when I am in an enclosed space out of respect for others.
As a government, I feel we should be stressing personal responsibility in the COVID response, rather than requiring our already burdened businesses or law enforcement to enforce a mandatory mask ordinance on the public. Texas is a large state and I would prefer to see a more targeted approach that allows for regional solutions and fewer restrictions to our personal freedoms.