As the final days of the Texas Legislature’s second special session dwindle, it appears certain that lawmakers will not advance any bills on masking requirements in schools. That’s good news for the Texas Medical Association, which has helped scuttle attempts to undercut local decisionmaking authority on masking.
On Tuesday night, the House Public Education Committee did not take up a new version of House Bill 164 by the committee’s chair, Rep. Harold V. Dutton Jr. (D-Houston). As originally filed, HB 164 aligned with the House of Medicine’s agenda: It would have explicitly stated that public and charter schools have the right to impose face covering requirements. However, earlier this week, Representative Dutton announced he was pursuing a compromise version of the legislation that would allow parents to opt out of those school requirements.
Once the compromise version of the bill emerged Tuesday, it was clear TMA couldn’t support it, TMA Associate Director of Public Affairs Troy Alexander says. The new substitute bill would have allowed a parental opt-out similar to the state’s conscientious exemption law for childhood vaccinations, which have caused vaccine opt-outs to skyrocket and create pockets of vulnerability in Texas.
“In effect, schools really wouldn’t have the ability to have an effective masking policy,” Mr. Alexander said. “They could have a policy about masking, but it would have no teeth.”
TMA continues to fervently advocate for local institutions to be able to make public health decisions that are right for their situation. For medicine, leaving the issue of masking unaddressed in the legislature – for now – is preferable to passing flawed law, Mr. Alexander adds. Meanwhile, the court system is still weighing whether Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting school mask mandates is constitutional.
Physicians’ spirited and timely responses to a TMA Action Alert earlier this week helped short-circuit another troublesome bill, House Bill 141 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), that would have barred public schools from imposing mask requirements.
With the special session drawing to a close this weekend, HB 141’s supporters don’t have enough time left to advance that bill, Mr. Alexander says, although the issue of masking could come up again in the upcoming third special session for redistricting.