The Bulletin

Virginia House sends Youngkin bill ending school mask mandates

By: - February 14, 2022 1:30 pm

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (right) shakes hands with House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, and talks with other Republican lawmakers shortly after House Republicans approved legislation ending school mask mandates. (Photo by Kate Masters)

The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill ending school mask mandates Monday on a party-line vote, fast-tracking the proposed law to Gov. Glenn Youngkin just five days after it was passed by the state Senate.

Youngkin is expected to recommend an emergency clause that could cause the legislation to take effect immediately rather than July 1, the default effective date for new laws approved by the General Assembly. Youngkin, who briefly walked onto the House floor Monday to mark the legislation’s passage, confirmed he plans to send a bill revised with an emergency clause to the House as early as tomorrow. That means the legislature could be taking its final votes on the matter later this week.

“It’s time we end the insanity and let our kids be kids again,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in a news release. “Virginia is behind the curve for states ending masking mandates and I’m proud of the legislature for getting this done quickly.”

To emphasize the speediness of the effort, House Republicans immediately took the bill to Youngkin’s office at the Capitol to deliver it to the governor in person.

Though some Republicans have suggested blue states like New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut are following Youngkin’s lead by beginning to lift school mask mandates, Democrats say the Virginia legislation goes well beyond what some Democratic governors are doing. The Virginia legislation prevents local school boards from making their own decisions about whether masks should be mandatory or optional, a policy House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said puts the state more in line with Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has sought to overrule school divisions that want student mask mandates.

“The local school divisons do not have any say in Florida,” Filler-Corn said on the House floor Monday. “And if this bill passes today, they will not here in the commonwealth either.”

Youngkin’s amended version would need to be approved by both the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-controlled House. Three Senate Democrats sided with Republicans on the original bill’s passage, but it’s unclear if they will support a version that takes effect immediately.

Both of the General Assembly’s clerks, the staff members who oversee the daily flow of legislation and the rules of each chamber, have said the emergency clause could pass with simple majority votes. But the maneuver could potentially be challenged due to a section of the Virginia Constitution that says emergency legislation requires four-fifths votes in each chamber, a threshold that appears too high for mandate opponents to meet. The Constitution also says a governor’s recommended changes to a bill “by a majority vote of the members present.”

Mercury reporter Kate Masters contributed.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.