Measure on masking in youth sports clears House committee

MICHAEL RUKINKAM
The Associated Press
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

HARRISBURG — Legislation that cleared a House committee on Monday would give Pennsylvania school districts the authority to decide whether student-athletes must wear masks while playing, as GOP lawmakers continue looking at a more aggressive move against the governor's universal mask mandate in schools.

The Republican-controlled House State Government Committee approved the sports masking measure 15-10 along party lines. It would give “exclusive authority” to schools, recreational clubs, community leagues and similar groups to set masking policy for youth athletes, though its practical impact would likely be minimal, given that current state policy already exempts youth athletes from having to cover their faces during practice or games.

GOP leaders in the state House have promised to mount a legislative response to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide mask mandate for schools, which requires students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The universal masking order has been met with fierce resistance by some school boards and anti-mask parents and students.

But so far, there has been no movement by majority Republicans on a wider bill to prevent the state from imposing a mask mandate on students and teachers in schools.

“The caucus will continue its discussion from last week on a potential legislative response this week to the administration’s latest unilateral mask mandate,” House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman said Monday,

The sponsor of the sports masking bill, Rep. Eric Davanzo, R-Westmoreland, said it is intended to shift power to school boards and other local officials. Athletes who want to wear masks still could, even if a mandate is not in place, he said.

“If you want to wear the mask, wear it,” Davanzo said during committee debate. “Nowhere in here does it say you can’t wear a mask.”

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, suggested during the debate that he may draw up an amendment to the bill to require health professionals to be consulted by school boards or sports organizations before they make a decision.