Sunday, September 19, 2021

Joe Biden takes aim at Texas blocking mask mandates

By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may soon be fighting a war on two fronts — with local officials and the federal government — to stave off mandatory COVID-19 prevention efforts after the Biden administration announced Wednesday it was going after states like Texas that try to ban universal masking at schools.

Saying that the federal government will not “sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators from protecting our children,” Biden said he will use the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights enforcement authority to deter states from blocking mask mandates in classrooms.

“I’m directing the Secretary of Education, an educator himself, to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal action, if appropriate, against governors trying to block and intimidate local school officials.”

“If you aren’t going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who’s trying,” Biden added.

Biden didn’t directly name Texas or Abbott in his Wednesday remarks, but both Florida and Texas have made national headlines for efforts to block schools from requiring masks.

Biden’s announcement could tee up another legal battle for Abbott, who is already fighting in state court Texas school districts which have implemented mask mandates as school kicked off this month.

More than 50 school districts and at least eight counties are currently defying or have recently violated Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates, according to a tally released Wednesday by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton has pledged to aggressively fight to enforce the state’s ban in court. His office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Abbott has said repeatedly that people must use “personal responsibility” in fighting the virus and that the time for mandates is over. The Republican governor who is up for reelection next year tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona sent Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath a letter expressing support for local school districts that have implemented mask mandates.

Cardona said in the letter that school districts had received COVID-19 relief funds to use for “contact tracing, implementing indoor masking policies, or other policies aligned with CDC guidance” and that the federal government was monitoring whether the state’s ban was in line with fiscal requirements attached to those funds. Texas has received $18 billion for public schools in COVID-19 relief dollars from the federal government and has already released $11 billion of it to the districts to spend.

Some Texas school districts which had implemented mask mandates have abandoned them after the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked the universal masking requirements in Dallas and Bexar Counties. Other school districts, like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, have pushed forward with their mandates.

Biden’s options are limited. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This limits federal interference in activities confined to one state, legal scholars say.

Biden also announced he would require vaccines for staff at nursing homes serving people on Medicaid or Medicare

“I’m using the power of the federal government, as a payer of health care costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” he said. “These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way.”

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/18/greg-abbott-joe-biden-texas-mask-mandates/

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

Related Articles

Popular This Week