House Republicans Deliver School Mask-Optional Bill to Youngkin


The House of Delegates passed SB 739, which will require schools to make masks optional. After Republicans were surprised by bipartisan votes in the Senate last week to amend the bill to include the mask clause and to pass the bill, Republicans hustled the bill through the necessary House committee hearing and through three required floor sessions, including a two-minute-long pro-forma session on Sunday. By 1 p.m. on Monday, Republicans had already delivered the bill to Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has committed to adding an emergency clause to make it take effect immediately.

After Youngkin adds the clause, both chambers can pass the bill and emergency clause with simple majority votes, setting up the bill to be law and in effect potentially by the end of the week, House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) said on The John Fredericks Show Monday morning.

“Once we adopt his [Youngkin’s] amendments, he’s already signed it and sent it back, it’ll be the law, and we can put this behind us,” Kilgore told The Virginia Star’s publisher, John Fredericks.

“Virginia is behind the curve for states ending masking mandates and I’m proud of the legislature for getting this done quickly. Our kids can’t wait,” Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a House GOP press release.

House Democrats pushed back against the rapid schedule in Monday’s floor session, asking for the bill to be moved to later in the day so Democrats had more time to draft and propose amendments to the bill so it might get bipartisan support. House Republicans have avoided amending the Senate bill, which would have added extra steps to the process by sending it back to the Senate for approval and possible negotiations before sending it to the governor.

Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) began with a procedural objection, saying that the masking clause was unrelated to the title of the bill, which was originally focused on in-person learning. Gilbert overruled him. Then, Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) introduced a floor amendment that would have stricken the mask-optional clause altogether, and Simon introduced an amendment that would make the bill sunset in July 2023. Both legislators warned that the bill would hamper school and health officials in their response not only to COVID-19, but to future health concerns. Republicans voted against the amendments.

“I get that folks are made now with their school boards and that under current conditions everybody thinks this is going to be fine. We don’t know what’s coming in the future,” Simon said.

Delegate Amanda Batten (R-James City) introduced HB 1272, a companion to SB 739. She argued in favor of the SB 739 on the House floor Monday.

“Two years ago, COVID was new. None of us knew what to expect when we gathered here in the Capitol and heard briefing after briefing on COVID. School shutdowns and masking seem prudent responses to an unknown threat. But much has changed since then. Vaccines have been rapidly deployed and are proving an effective tool,” Batten said.

She continued, “Most Virginians and Americans and certainly all of us in this body have resumed many of our normal activities. Based on our comfort level, we choose whether or not to wear masks while we are in grocery stores, restaurants, or here on the House floor. Judging by last night’s Super Bowl, a massive number of Americans are comfortable remaining unmasked even within very large groups. Yet our children here in Virginia remain masked in schools.”

Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) told the delegates, “Welcome to Florida.”

She said that Youngkin, Petersen, and others have highlighted Democratic governors who are relaxing mask requirements.

“But in those and other states, the statewide mask requirements are lifted over the next two to six weeks. And you know what? Local school divisions have the final say on masks in schools. The local school divisions do not have any say in Florida, and if this bill passes today, they will not here in the Commonwealth either,” she said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Background Photo “COVID-19 Mask” by Daniel Arauz. CC BY 2.0.



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