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Proposed referendum on Provo mask mandate wouldn't appear on ballot until November 2021

Posted at 9:17 AM, Sep 01, 2020

PROVO, Utah — A group is launching a referendum effort to repeal Provo's face covering mandate.

The group calling itself "Utahns for Medical Freedom" filed a referendum on the mandate passed by the Provo City Council.

Mayor Michele Kaufusi previously vetoed the ordinance, but members of the Provo City Council overrode that veto.

The group must gather 3,200 signatures across a portion of council districts in order to qualify for the November 2021 ballot. In the meantime, the ordinance would remain in effect and is set to expire on November 15, 2020. In its own statement, the group questioned the legality of that.

"This has the chilling effect of dissuading any person or group from EVER filing referendums," the group's Mary Ann Nielsen said in a statement. "While responses to COVD-19 are all over the spectrum, one point is certain: The People of the State of Utah are the final say in all legislative matters. We’ve had enough of overbearing, unaccountable, uneducated, emotional knee-jerk reactions that curtail or eliminate our right to decide matters concerning our own health and safety."

Provo City Recorder Amanda Ercanbrack confirmed that the city would not implement a stay on the mask mandate until the petition has received enough signatures.

"Thats not our interpretation of the law," Ercanbrack said, responding to the concerns of Utahns for Medical Freedom.

Multiple city leaders in Provo discussed potential amendments to the mask mandate during meetings on Tuesday.

"We are looking at some tweaks to the ordinance and will be getting a report from the administration about their educational campaign," said Council Chair George Handley. "I can say this much: We had certainly contemplated the possibility of a referendum happening, but it didn't seem prudent to allow such a possibility to color our decision-making. We did what we felt was right."

In an interview with FOX 13, Nielsen said she believed masks are "dangerous for people to wear," despite consistent warnings from the CDC.

"People aren’t washing them. Kids are touching them at school," Nielsen said. "People should never have to wear a mask, unless maybe you’re the person doing a surgery."

Nielsen said she has never worked on a ballot referendum before, but she doesn't think gathering signatures will be the biggest obstacle.

"We can take them to court," Nielsen said. "According to the Utah Constitution, it’s very clear if you want to read it. I don’t know how anyone could misinterpret it... It’s supposed to stop any ordinance from going through until it’s submitted to the voters."