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Virginia House won’t have mask, vaccine mandates this year

(AP) The Virginia General Assembly is set to convene in person next week amid a surge in cases of COVID-19, and when it does, members in at least one chamber will not be facing mask, testing or vaccine mandates.

The incoming leadership of the House of Delegates, which will be newly under GOP control, made the announcement Jan. 7 that there would be no such requirements.

In a statement, Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert said he urged anyone taking part in person during the session to get vaccinated and receive a booster as appropriate.

Gilbert’s statement said the House Clerk’s office will maintain an ample supply of KN95 masks for legislators, staff, and visitors wishing to use them.

Seating capacity will be reduced in all committee rooms, with hearings livestreamed, according to a memo. In-person testimony before committees will resume, but the option to weigh in virtually will remain available.

Outgoing Democratic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn issued a call for a vaccine mandate for members and staff, among other precautions, but the protocols for each chamber are up to the party in charge.

The leadership of the Democrat-controlled Senate said it is working with Senate Republicans and staff on ways “to create an environment in which we can complete the important work of the people while staying safe and healthy.”

The statement said the caucus was supporting mask and vaccine requirements for those in the chamber and public participation through virtual methods, such as video and email testimony.

General Assembly operations have been conducted in part virtually during the pandemic. That’s raised transparency concerns from some corners but also led to new ways of participating, such as through video conference testimony.

The session kicks off Jan. 12.

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