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House leaders bullied two Salt Lake County Council Republicans to change their votes on the COVID mask mandate. They didn’t budge.

Laurie Stringham and Aimee Winder Newton refused to change their votes; House spokeswoman says leaders just wanted to understand their perspective.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, drops the gavel for the start of the 2022 legislative session in the Senate chamber at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Before the Utah House voted 45-29 to repeal the Salt Lake and Summit county mask requirements, House leaders summoned Republican members of the Salt Lake County council to a meeting where they tried to bully two into rescinding the requirement on their own.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Council Chairwoman Laurie Stringham and Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton — the two Republican council members who voted with Democrats to keep the county health department’s mask order in place — were called to a meeting at House Speaker Brad Wilson’s office Thursday morning, along with House Majority Leader Mike Schultz and all of the Republican members of the county council who backed rescinding the mandate.

The representatives took turns berating the two councilwomen for voting to uphold the county’s mask order and pressuring them to change their votes and rescind the mandate, sparing the House from having to take the controversial vote.

Neither councilwoman caved.

“Of course that’s what he wanted us to do,” Stringham said Friday when asked if they were pressured to change their votes.

“I can tell you that I never want to sit through another meeting like that,” she said. “It’s one thing when you have someone who disagrees with you. It’s a whole other thing when there are two of you taking the brunt of what’s being said. It wasn’t a fun meeting in any way, shape or form.”

Stringham said she was willing to listen to alternative solutions that would help protect students and teachers and alleviate the strain on first responders and businesses, but there were no solutions offered.

“Though I was urged by state legislative leaders to change my vote, I stand firmly with small businesses, school teachers, and healthcare workers as we’ve seen this recent surge take down our workforce and fill our hospitals,” Winder Newton said in a statement after the House vote Friday.

Alexa Roberts, a spokeswoman for House leadership, confirmed the meeting.

“We did meet earlier in the week with Salt Lake County Council members to better understand their perspective and how they reached their decision,” Roberts said.

With the councilwomen unwilling to reverse course, the House met in a closed caucus on Friday morning and then voted to rescind the mask orders in Salt Lake and Summit, as well as an order in place for Salt Lake City schools.

“It is disappointing that although our county followed the law, the state legislature still chose to intervene and dismiss the decision we made to protect our residents,” Winder Newton said in her statement.

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