More than half of states have rolled back public health powers in pandemic

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Signs lie on the ground in front of the Lincoln Center in support of optional masking in Billings schools Tuesday, August 31, 2021, in downtown Billings

RYAN BERRY Billings Gazette LAUREN WEBER and ANNA MARIA BARRY-JESTER Kaiser Health News

Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.

A KHN review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses

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