Dubbed the Unmask Georgia Students Act, the Republican-backed bill passed the state legislature on a largely party-line vote. It states that school officials should not impose any mask mandate on students, unless they make sure parents who don’t want their children to wear masks have an option to opt out without needing to provide a reason.
The new law takes effect immediately and will last for five years until June 30, 2027.
“This will ensure that parents have the final say when it comes to the health and well-being of their child,” Kemp said at a press conference before signing the bill. “It’s a common-sense measure that puts the parents in charge—not the government. As we work to overcome the lingering affects of the pandemic in our daily lives, it’s time for a complete return to normalcy for Georgia students.”
Many of Georgia’s 180 school districts never required students to wear a mask, and most of those that did have since made masks optional as the number of new COVID-19 cases dropped earlier this year, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased their guidelines.
“We led the way on getting our kids back in the classroom because that’s where the data and the science had always said they should be,” Kemp said.
On Tuesday, the House also approved Senate Bill 345, which bans state and local government agencies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or a vaccine passport, to enter their facilities or to receive a service.
“I think everybody should have vaccinations,” said Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis, the bill’s sponsor. “I just don’t think that state government should mandate it.”
Georgia is also among 21 states that have joined a Florida-led legal challenge over the federal government’s mask mandates on public transportation. The mandate was originally set to expire on March 18 but has been kept in place for another 30 days.
The Transportation Security Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, extended the mandate through April 18, citing a recommendation from the CDC. The suing states argue that the move is not only a violation of the 10th Amendment, but also lacks scientific basis.
“Although even some of the most restrictive states are starting to repeal vaccine passports and some of these mandates, you still have this federal rule that was just extended, forcing people to wear masks on airplanes,” Florida Gov. Ron Desantis said. “And it’s not something that’s grounded in any science.”