Virginia State Senator Dunnavant Protests Plexiglass Shields in Floor Speech

Repost from The Virginia Star.

State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) protested the plexiglass shields that surround senators’ desks on the Senate floor.

“The first week we were here together, I shared with the body through Madam Clerk the data that shows that devices like these do not help mitigate the risk of COVID, and that they may indeed increase risk of COVID,” Dunnavant said in a floor speech. “There is no emergency order in place.”

Dunnavant is an OB/GYN. She added, “I believe that I am the best capable to discern my risk and mitigation of that risk.”

The shields have been in place since the Senate returned to the Capitol for a special session last summer. Previously during COVID-19, the Senate met in the Virginia Science Museum, where desks could be spaced out. While the Senate was there, only two plexiglass boxes were in place; one for State Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), who did not wear a mask for health reasons, and one for State Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax), who had a health concern, according to WUSA9.

During that time, the House of Delegates met virtually, but when the delegates returned in-person last summer, small plexiglass shields were placed on their desks. In the current session with Republicans in control of the House, those shields are gone, and generally, House Republicans haven’t been wearing masks, although House Democrats generally have. Legislators in both chambers have been allowed to participate virtually when isolating due to quarantine.

“We have our own observational study,” Dunnavant said. “I’ll share with you: At least 50 percent of the House has worn no masks. There are no dividers. Their percent positivity is identical to ours. We know that this has interfered with our ability to perform and interact here.”

The shields in the Senate make it difficult to see some legislators in person, and additionally make it difficult for viewers to see speakers in Senate video.

Dunnavant said, “It’s very hard to interact. It’s just one thing after another that raises the question, ‘Why are these here?’”

Dunnavant’s complaint comes amid a broader bipartisan sense of a “return to normal” in the Senate with separate individual decisions made around masking regardless of which party the senator belongs to. The General Assembly is in its final weeks of the 2022 regular session.

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