Nurse Erin Tobin beat anti-vaxxer Republican House Majority Leader Lee Qualm in last year’s District 21 Senate GOP primary. She vowed last November to wear a mask in the Legislature to prevent the spread of coronavirus and set a good example.
But Senator Tobin set aside her medical duty and training yesterday to put party sloganeering first and vote against Senate Bill 125, Senator Reynold Nesiba’s reasonable proposal that South Dakota require most people to mask up in indoor retail businesses and government facilities where folks can’t stay six feet apart. SB 125 has no penalties. It exempts kids four and under, folks eating and drinking, folks with health issues that make wearing a mask unreasonable, people swimming or engaged in team sports (what, not individual exercise?), public safety workers whose masks would hinder their job performance, and people who shack up or (or!) go to the store in a group of ten or fewer as long as they keep away from everyone else.
I could read into that list of exceptions and excuse for almost anyone to ignore SB 125’s mask requirement. But Senator Tobin voted no, muttering something about demands and compliance and good people:
“I think there’s three levels of compliance: demand, ask, and convince. And I don’t know if demand is the best way to approach compliance,” Tobin said.
…Tobin noted that “we have good people” in the state who should not be criticized for not wanting to wear a mask, and motioned to move the bill to the 41st day.
“I want to reiterate that the mask decision does not make a person a bad person. But it is a decision, and I will stand by my people that they are good people, and that’s why I voted this way,” Tobin said [Abby Wargo, “S.D. Senate Committee Sends Indoor Mask Mandate to Floor Vote,” Pierre Capital Journal, 2021.02.03].
It’s funny hearing South Dakota Republicans get all hypersensitive about judging people who don’t behave according to expectations.
Requiring masks and other sensible behavior during a pandemic isn’t about passing moral judgment on selfish idiots who don’t listen to science (although, you know…). It’s about adopting effective (and cheap!) public health practices that will save lives and reduce the burdens on our hospitals, schools, and economy. I’m not worried about who’s bad people and who’s good people, but we should all keenly worried about discerning bad decisions from good decisions. The fact that something is a decision does not make it a wise or acceptable decision. It’s o.k. to tell people, “Hey, that’s a bad decision” and even to require better decisions when bad decisions have major impacts on other people.
Senator Red Dawn Foster captured the grave consequences of Tobin’s confused priorities well:
“We could’ve been good neighbors and willingly wore masks,” said Foster. “But because it’s been so tainted, it’s now an issue of freedom … and a lot of people in my community have died” [Christopher Vondracek, “In Political Reversal, Longshot Mask Mandate in South Dakota Heads to the Full Senate,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2021.02.03].
Without judging any individual, Sister Lynn Marie Welbig of the Presentation Sisters said government’s failure to act has led to death:
During public testimony, Sister Lynn Marie Welbig, of the Presentation Sisters in Aberdeen, said the need for a mask mandate was evidenced by the effects of the state’s hands-off response to the virus.
“Some of the previous speakers have pointed out how well that’s working for us in South Dakota,” Welbig said. “Nearly 1,800 of our neighbors are dead. That’s comparable to wiping out the population of many towns in South Dakota” [Vondracek, 2021.02.03].
Everybody Senator Tobin heard testify on Senate Bill 125 yesterday before Senate Health and Human Services—Avera Health, the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, the State Medical Association, Sanford Health, the South Dakota Nurses Association, the Community Healthcare Associate of the Dakotas, the South Dakota Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Presentation Sisters—all said a mask mandate is a good idea. Representative disregarded that proponent testimony and voted against this very weak mask bill as too much government.
The committee almost joined Senator Tobin in opposing Senate Bill 125. The initial vote on Tobin’s kill motion failed by just one vote, but so did the vote on doctor and Senator R. Blake Curd’s motion to pass. Even with an amendment ending the mask mandate on April 30 instead of September 30, House Health and Human Services could only send SB 125 to the Senate floor without recommendation.
At least one Republican medical professional, Dr. Curd, is willing to put his professional expertise and commitment ahead of his party’s talking points. But nurse and Senator Tobin shows that we can’t count on such professional commitment and consistency from the people who play the Republican game.