Committee meeting forced to recess briefly, people forcibly removed after refusing to wear masks

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A group calling itself the Concerned Louisianans for Safe and Healthy Schools and Communities gathered outside the Louisiana State Capitol on Monday morning.

After this event outside the Capitol, members of this coalition made their way to the House Health and Welfare committee meeting. Some who are against wearing masks indoors also made their way into the meeting.

Rep. Larry Bagley, the chairman of the committee, asked everyone to wear a mask or go to another room where they can socially distance themselves.

Some people in attendance could be heard shouting that they are losing their rights. People were calling for the legislators to put their masks on as well. The meeting was paused and people were forcibly removed from the meeting.

Lawmakers are set to talk about possible exceptions for vaccine mandates in regards to school staff and students.

The meeting was held ahead of BESE making its decision on if school districts can make their own decisions on mask mandates. The public, educators, and health officials came to testify on the decision behind allowing some exceptions to possible future mandates.

A public hearing dissolves quickly into shouting and debate over requiring masks. The House Health and Welfare Committee was forced into recess as members of the public were removed from the hearing after being told to wear masks.

This led to the debate on if students and school staff should be mandated to wear masks. State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter testified, saying a normal school year would not be able to take place without masks based on the current and worst surge happening now.

“It’s statewide, it’s corner to corner. By the number of new cases diagnosed each day, it is number one in the country right now,” Dr. Kanter said.

Members of the public argued that masking a child should be the parent’s choice and that vaccines should be optional.

Representatives grilled Dr. Kanter on the effectiveness of masks and how severe the hospitalization situation is around the state.

“We are seeing more kids getting sick with Delta right now than we have before. We are seeing more admission of pediatric age groups to hospitals,” Dr. Kanter said.

Leaders of the major universities in the area shared their vaccine plans. Once approved by the FDA, schools like LSU, Southern University, and University of Louisiana will add it to their immunization requirements. But students can still opt out for personal reasons under state law.

“If we were in the midst of a pandemic and they checked the box that for personal reasons they were not going to be vaccinated we would, of course, accept that but more than likely they would be part of some testing protocol,” LSU President Dr. William Tate said.

The hearing continued for over four hours to allow the public to speak after officials. No vote or motion was made in this meeting, it was just for comment. The vote by BESE will take place on Wednesday after a public hearing.

Louisiana continues to have the nation’s highest per capita number of new COVID-19 cases over the last week, according to the CDC. Dozens of people are dying from the disease each day, with 188 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Louisiana over the last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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