North Carolina governor vetoes bill giving parents power regarding school mask mandates

Roy Cooper vetoed the Free the Smiles Act after North Carolina governor vetoes bill.

Updated: February 24, 2022 - 11:14pm

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has turned aside Republican lawmakers' attempt to let parents opt their children out of mask requirements at schools.

Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 173, the Free the Smiles Act, on Thursday after the General Assembly passed the bill last week.

"I have encouraged local boards to lift mask mandates and they are doing it across the state with the advice of health officials who see that COVID metrics are declining and vaccinations are increasing," Cooper said in a statement. "The bipartisan law the legislature passed and I signed last year allows local boards to make these decisions for their own communities and that is still the right course.

"Passing laws for political purposes that encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow is dangerous and could tie the hands of public health officials in the future."

Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said Cooper is ignoring science with his veto.

"It's past time to return the decision-making power to parents who can best evaluate their family’s needs," Ballard said in a statement. "Gov. Cooper continues to work against parents and ignore the science that shows children are at a lower risk for developing severe illness but are having development setbacks because of masking. That science hasn’t changed for months. The only thing that has changed is the political science, and Gov. Cooper knows that."

The state does not have a mask mandate at schools, and the policy is left up to local school districts.

“Actions speak louder than words, and the governor should do more than ‘encourage’ schools to lift their mask mandates," House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. "Return this decision back to parents.”

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