ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Twenty-one states with Republican attorneys general sued Tuesday to halt the federal government’s requirement that people wear masks on planes, trains, ferries and other public transportation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit, announced by Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody and filed in federal court in Tampa, Florida, contends that the mask mandate exceeds the authority of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mandate in its current form may be in effect only a few weeks more. The CDC recently extended it until April 18 while also indicating it is weighing scaling back the rules for a more targeted approach.
Still, Florida and the other states are pressing on with the lawsuit, which comes amid a partisan divide over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and issues of government control versus individual rights.
“It is well past time to get rid of this unnecessary mandate and get back to normal life,” said DeSantis, a Republican who has persistently challenged federal mask mandates including those involving cruise lines, schools, private businesses and other entities.
The CDC rule, effective Feb. 1, 2021, requires “the wearing of masks by people on public transportation conveyances or on the premises of transportation hubs,” according to the agency website. The rule has been relaxed somewhat, to end requirements for certain buses, but was recently extended until at least April 18 for domestic and international travel in general.
Moody, a Republican and former Tampa judge, said in a news release that the travel mask mandates “are frustrating travelers and causing chaos on public transportation.”
That appeared to be a reference to a spate of well-publicized confrontations between flight attendants and passengers over the mask requirement on commercial aircraft. It’s not clear if these incidents are isolated or widespread, and if masks are the only issue. Some are clearly alcohol-related or a mental health problem.
Also, perhaps underscoring the partisan divide on masks, both DeSantis and Moody mentioned Democratic President Joe Biden several times in their statements against the travel mandate.
The Atlanta-based CDC did not immediately respond to a phone call and email requesting comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks to immediately halt the CDC travel mask rule and asks for costs and attorneys' fees. There have been similar lawsuits filed in individual states before this latest one.
Besides Florida, the states filing the new travel mask lawsuit as of Tuesday were:
— Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.