Youngkin Will Use Emergency Powers To Expedite Bill To End School Mask Mandates

State Senate is expected to pass the bipartisan bill on Wednesday

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R.) / Getty Images
February 9, 2022

Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin (R.) will use emergency powers to quickly enact legislation that would effectively end mask mandates in public schools.

The Virginia State Senate on Wednesday is expected to pass an amended bill that would codify Youngkin's executive order giving parents the right to decide whether their children wear masks to schools. A spokesman for the governor's office told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday that the governor plans on attaching an "emergency clause" to the masking amendment, which would allow the provision to take effect immediately.

If passed, the bill will end a struggle over Youngkin's Jan. 15 executive order. School officials announced they would maintain mask mandates just hours after Youngkin issued the order—and, in some cases, have suspended students who come to schools without masks. Seven school districts filed suit against the order, which they say violates state law.

Virginia state senator Chap Petersen (D.) on Tuesday introduced the masking provision as an amendment to a bill that would require schools to resume in-person instruction. Ten Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the amendment, which passed with a 29-9 vote. The Senate is expected to pass the bill.

The Republican-led House of Delegates passed a companion bill Wednesday.

Youngkin has the authority to add an emergency clause to the amendment, which would make the specific provision take effect immediately upon signing. Both chambers of the Virginia legislature must approve the governor's move with a majority vote of the members present, the Washington Post reported. Ordinarily, emergency bills require an 80 percent vote in both houses.

Youngkin on Tuesday praised Petersen, a moderate who opposed former Democratic governor Ralph Northam's use of executive orders to impose mask mandates in schools.

"In an overwhelming bipartisan show of support, the Senate of Virginia took a significant step today for parents and children," Youngkin said. "I applaud Senator Petersen's amendment to give parents the right to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools."

Several Democratic governors announced this week that they will lift school mask mandates. New York governor Kathy Hochul (D.) announced Wednesday that masks will still be required in schools when the statewide mask mandate ends on Feb. 10.