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States Are Abusing Preemption Powers in the Midst of a Pandemic

During coronavirus, we have seen some of the most egregious examples of states overriding local efforts to protect public health. 

A person wearing a protective mask and gloves cleans a door handle at a store in downtown Lexington, Nebraska. Governor Pete Ricketts said he would withhold federal money from any local government that imposed a mask requirement. 

A person wearing a protective mask and gloves cleans a door handle at a store in downtown Lexington, Nebraska. Governor Pete Ricketts said he would withhold federal money from any local government that imposed a mask requirement. 

Photographer: Bloomberg

At a press conference in mid-June, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts encouraged residents to wear masks. But he would stop short of requiring them. In fact, not only would the state reject a mandated mask requirement, Ricketts said he would withhold federal dollars for coronavirus from any local government that imposed its own mask requirement. 

Nebraska’s is an extreme example, but it is not an isolated one. Around the same time, several other states including Texas, Florida, and Arizona said they would block local mask requirements, before eventually ceding to demands and reversing their positions. And in North Carolina, if the state legislature doesn’t act, wearing masks will actually become illegal in the state on Aug. 1, setting up one of the most dramatic tensions with the policies of cities such as Durham, where masks are required in some public spaces.