Youngkin’s mask-mandate ban a vote away from becoming law next month

An amendment to a Virginia bill banning mask mandates in schools is just a vote away from taking effect sooner rather than later.

The Virginia Senate on Tuesday approved Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s amendment to SB739, which allows parents “to elect for [their] child to not wear a mask while on school property” regardless of any mandates by locally elected school boards.

Under the amendment, the bill would take effect immediately, and school districts would have until March 1 to comply. Without the amendment, the bill won’t take effect until July 1.

The decision heads to the Virginia House of Delegates Wednesday, where it is expected to pass and be quickly signed by Youngkin.

The governor’s office and Republicans have said a simple majority vote is required. Democrats, though, say a 4/5th majority is required for any bill to become law immediately upon effect. Democratic Del. Marcus Simon said there are conflicting provisions in the state constitution saying that both things are true.

“Ultimately it will get litigated,” Simon said. “The (Virginia) Supreme Court is going to have to harmonize those provisions.”

On Monday, the House passed the original bill on a party-line 52-48 vote. That move followed passage of the same bill last week by the Senate on a bipartisan 21-19 vote.

Youngkin, who made the elimination of mask mandates one of his central campaign issues, doesn’t want to wait that long.

Youngkin tried to ban mask mandates by executive order last month, on his first day in office. The move was immediately greeted with lawsuits by parent groups and school boards across the commonwealth. An Arlington County judge has sided with those groups against the executive order, and the issue remains tied up in the courts.

Passage and signing of the bill would make that an academic question, although challenges to the constitutionality of the bill have also been filed.

One other provision added by Youngkin seeks to clarify that the bill does not restrict the governor’s ability to respond to public health emergencies.

Tuesday afternoon, Prince William County Superintendent LaTanya McDade said in a statement that the system “will be reviewing and revising our mitigation strategies as necessary to be consistent with the final version of the new legislation. As always, any changes to our mitigation strategies will be made thoughtfully, with the safety, health, and instructional needs of our students and staff at the forefront.”

She said there would be an update Friday evening.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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