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Failed veto override means North Carolina school mask decisions remain with districts

An attempt by North Carolina Senate Republicans to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper to make masks optional in schools statewide failed to gain the required three-fifths majority.

The Senate voted, 27-22, in favor of overriding the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 173, known as the Free the Smiles Act, with all Democrats opposed.

The bill would have made wearing a mask optional for students in all North Carolina schools and would have repealed state law requiring school boards to take monthly votes on masks. The General Assembly initially approved SB 173 on the same day in February that Cooper advised local governments to lift mask mandates. The governor vetoed the bill a week later.

Two Democrats who initially voted in favor of the bill, Sens. Ben Clark, D-Hoke, and Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland, voted Wednesday to uphold the veto the second time around.

“I have consistently fought for the people of my community and what’s right for parents, children, business owners, and those that just want government to work for them,” deViere said in a prepared statement. “The governor’s veto in no way jeopardizes the current policy that allows our local school leaders working with parents to continue common sense policies like optional mask wearing.”

Sen. Sarah Crawford, D-Franklin, offered a similar reasoning for her vote.

“Today, I voted to uphold Governor Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 173. Wake [and] Franklin counties are among 110 local boards of education that have lifted mask mandates, making statewide legislation unnecessary,” Crawford posted to Twitter. “I am hopeful that we are moving beyond the pandemic and political grandstanding. We cannot know what the future may hold and it is important that our communities have the ability to protect our children and follow the guidance of public health officials.”

SB 173 was referred to the Senate Rules Committee, which means it is technically still alive, but Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told The News & Observer that Republicans “have no plans to take it up again at this point.”

Berger argued, “It was important for us to go ahead take that vote so that people, parents, around the state understand who’s willing and who’s not willing.

“So the vote itself was important,” he said.

Six school districts out of 115 in the state still require masks: Bertie, Durham, Chapel Hill Carrboro, Hertford and Northampton, according to The North State Journal.

Senate Education Committee Chair Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said the bill would not have prevented students from wearing masks if they choose to, but would have freed parents to make the decision.

“Gov. Cooper and the Senate Democrats are working against parents,” she said. “This bill provides a level playing field for all families across the state since politicians continue to ignore the parents who are speaking up for their children.

“It’s disheartening that the Senate Democrats would choose to turn their backs on families and disregard the effects masking has on our young children.”

This article was originally posted on Failed veto override means North Carolina school mask decisions remain with districts

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