New facemask bill in North Carolina raises concerns about health and safety

Tom George Image
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
New NC mask bill raises concerns about health and safety
North Carolina lawmakers looking to pass law about masking during protests, sparked by concerns over Israel - Palestine rallies.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- During the pandemic, restrictions called on the public to wear a mask to protect public safety. Now the North Carolina General Assembly is looking to ban masks in the name of public safety.

HB 237 is known as the "Unmasking Mobs and Criminals Act." It's aimed at preventing protestors from hiding behind a mask, but health experts believe it could have unintended consequences.

Lawmakers who support the bill said it is aimed at cracking down on protestors in the wake of demonstrations over the war in Gaza. The bill makes it easier to prosecute people trying to hide behind a mask while committing a crime.

"They're saying, we don't want you to go out and throw a brick through a glass window of a business or break the law in some way and conceal your identity when you're doing that," State Rep. Erin Pare (R-Wake County) said.

But while Pare supports the original version of the bill, she's not comfortable with changes made in the Senate version of the same bill. She said the Senate version goes too far and fails to include exemptions for people who want to wear masks for medical or safety reasons.

She's been getting calls from constituents and will be urging other lawmakers to vote against the bill, unless the medical exemption is put back in.

"Any person for whatever reason should be allowed and have that right and freedom to go out in public, to the grocery store, to a drugstore or wherever and mask up if they feel worried, given their situation about picking something up -- some virus that could be detrimental to their health. I mean, this is just common sense to me," Pare said.

Renee Nixon from Durham said she has worn masks indoors since COVID-19. She's concerned about the health and allergies and anxiety. She was angered learning about the bill.

"Are you paying for my health insurance if I get sick? Are you paying for my medicine or anything if I get sick? Where are you? And if you're not going to pay for any of that then how about you stay out of my mask situation," she said.

The Senate version of the bill passed in a 30-15 vote along party lines with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposed.

Representative Pare said other GOP House lawmakers are on board with her position. The Office of House Speaker Tim Moore agreed, saying his chamber will not vote to concur with the Senate's changes. That means HB 237 will go back to a conference committee to debate if it should still move forward.