WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – As President-Elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in January, he has confirmed his intent to impose a national mask mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, some Colorado law enforcement agencies and legal analysts say the mandate likely would not be enforceable by local law enforcement at this time.
Because of the federal government’s inability to impose many laws on state governments, Biden cannot force states and cities to issue mask orders under a national order.
The Biden campaign acknowledged they would work with governors and mayors to try and get mask mandates issued on a local level, with hope the entire nation would unite under the movement.
According to the Biden campaign’s website, they want every American to wear a mask when around someone who doesn’t live in their home.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he would not enforce a mask mandate from the White House, and believed it would be difficult to get complete compliance across the country.
“When a federal law is passed that is not something that local law enforcement has the authority to go out an enforce,” Reams said. “It would be unprecedented.”
Reams and CBS4 legal analyst Raj Chohan both said a mask mandate from the president would likely serve as nothing more than a recommendation from the nation’s highest office to both local governments and Americans.
“A federal mask mandate, whatever that would look like, would really give no authority to local law enforcement to go out and do any enforcement action,” Reams said.
Chohan said there are limitations to what the federal government can do to impose itself on local laws and local jurisdictions.
One of the only viable options Biden would have would be to create a national precedence, and hope that individual states would then create their own laws to follow. Doing so would likely require both chambers of Colorado’s legislature to be in session, pass a bill and have Gov. Jared Polis sign it in to law.
Until lawmakers in Colorado backed the president-elect’s plans, any federal mandate would only be enforceable by federal agencies, not local.
“I don’t think there are nearly enough of those folks around to worry about masks. I think they have their plates full as it is,” Reams said.
He also noted Colorado jails and some prisons are being encouraged to limit their incarceration numbers to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He said he was curious how jails would limit incarceration while also being expected to increase punishment for those choosing not to wear masks if such a mandate was successful.
The Biden campaign said more than 70,000 lives could be saved by the end of 2020 if everyone followed their suggested mask-wearing guidelines.
While many have made mask-wearing a political issue, Reams said it should not be considered as one. He said he believed, like with other illnesses, individuals should be entrusted to take the right steps to protect themselves and families nearby.
“I don’t look at this is a political issue. I think we all understand there is science behind wearing a mask,” Reams said. “I think all of the responsibility is put back on the citizens. I think this is one of those issues that by the time a mask mandate can be thought of for the United States, hopefully the virus will have already ran its course.”