School mask mandates in Virginia will end on March 1 if the General Assembly adopts amendments made by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to just-passed legislation on the issue.
The legislature passed a bill Monday giving parents and students the ability to opt out of mandates imposed by local school boards. But the legislation would not have taken effect until July 1.
On Monday night, Youngkin added an emergency clause to the legislation that allows it to take effect immediately upon passage. He also added a provision giving school districts until March 1 to develop plans to comply with the law.
The amended legislation now must pass both legislative chambers again. 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.
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“Ultimately it will get litigated,” Simon said. “The (Virginia) Supreme Court is going to have to harmonize those provisions.”
The bill's supporters have expressed optimism that the amended bill can be passed by the legislature in a matter of days. By Tuesday evening, the Senate had already adopted Youngkin's amendments, leaving only the House to act.
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.
Youngkin sought to end the mask mandates on his first day in office last month by issuing an executive order. But that order has been bogged down in legal challenges from local school boards who argue it usurps their authority.
After a judge issued an injunction barring Youngkin's order from taking effect, three Democrats in the state Senate combined with the 19 Republicans in the 40-member chamber to pass legislation ending the mandates.
The move to end the mask mandates in schools comes as several states across the country have begun making similar changes.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.