Disdain for the people | Richmond Free Press

We are gravely concerned by the growing contempt that the Youngkin administration and its GOP and Democratic supporters have for the people of the Commonwealth.

On Tuesday, the state Senate passed an amendment that would ban school mask mandates.

The vote: 29-9.

Ten of 21 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in endorsing the amendment, which would give parents the right to choose whether their children will wear masks at school. The amendment was sponsored by Democratic Senator Chap Petersen of Fairfax, which was added to a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant of Henrico requiring public schools to conduct in-person classes.

Senator Petersen told reporters on Tuesday that he agreed with Governor Youngkin’s decision that masks should be optional in schools, but that it should be enshrined in law and not just an executive order issued by the governor last month on his first day in office. .

Then on Wednesday, the amended bill passed the Senate by a vote of 21 to 17, with fewer Democrats ultimately supporting the bill in its final passage. However, the measure is likely to become state law because the House of Delegates, which will now consider the measure, is controlled by Republicans.

It’s a new low for our state and for the Democrats who control the 40-member Senate. By making masks optional, lawmakers are jeopardizing the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Check the numbers. Nationally, the death toll from the virus and its latest highly transmissible omicron variant has exceeded 903,000. In Virginia, more than 17,300 lives have been claimed.

Health officials are now raising concerns about BA.2, the new “stealth” variant of omicron that may be heading our way. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health professionals emphasize that the best ways for people to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus and its potential long-term effects are to wear a mask and to get vaccinated.

According to the latest statistics, 1 in 5 people tested for COVID-19 in the state are positive. While those numbers have slipped from the state’s recent 35% positivity rate, lifting a mask mandate may leave millions of Virginians unprotected when they need it most.

For state lawmakers to join those like Governor Youngkin in shunning science in the name of parental rights and personal freedom signals a disregard for human life and a failure to protect our most vulnerable. This is particularly serious for African Americans and other people of color who continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus, in terms of deaths and number of cases.

We applaud Richmond Senator Jennifer L. McClellan for standing with eight other Democratic senators and voting against Senator Petersen’s amendment. She was joined in opposition by her Virginia Legislative Black Caucus colleagues, Senator L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Senator Mamie Locke of Hampton, who also voted against the final version of the bill on Wednesday.

Sen. Joseph “Joe” Morrissey and Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi, both Democrats who represent parts of Richmond, voted for the optional mask amendment, along with Sen. Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake, a VLBC member.

On Wednesday, Sen. Morrissey voted for final passage of the bill, while Sen. Hashmi and Sen. Spruill voted against.

This legislative ploy simply adds to the confusion that arose from Governor Youngkin’s Jan. 15 executive order banning school systems from enforcing mask mandates in the classroom. The issue is being debated in court, where several lawsuits have been filed.

A September poll by Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found a majority of Virginians — 71% — support mask mandates in K-12 public schools. .

It was no surprise that the poll also showed a deep divide on the issue between Republicans and Democrats as well as minorities and whites in the state.

According to the poll, 94% of Democrats supported the last administration’s mask mandate in public schools, compared with 43% of respondents who identified as Republicans. Additionally, 83% of minority and Hispanic respondents favored the mandate, compared to 64% of non-Hispanic white Virginians.

This raises the question of whether Democratic lawmakers who oppose the mask ban are countering the values ​​espoused by their constituents.

The health and safety of our loved ones is of the utmost importance during this pandemic. Voters will remember that.


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