North Carolina House of Representatives take on bill to ban most public mask wearing

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Monday, May 20, 2024
NC House take on bill to ban most public mask wearing
This move comes in part because of the demonstrations against the war in Gaza on college campuses.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina House of Representatives is expected to take on the 'Unmasking Mobs and Criminals' Bill, banning most public mask wearing.

It will likely go through a few committees before hitting the house floor, House Rules Committee Chairman Destin Hall said.

This move comes after the demonstrations against the war in Gaza, which have included masked protesters camped out on college campuses.

The bill, which restricts the wearing of face masks in public to hide a criminal's identity, including arrested protesters, would repeal the pandemic-era exemption that allowed wearing masks for health reasons.

The general statute on masks goes back to the 1950s. The legislature then passed a slew of restrictions on secret societies as a way to curb Ku Klux Klan membership in North Carolina.

The legislation was passed by the Senate Wednesday in a 30-15 vote. It could still be altered as it heads back to the House.

WATCH | NC lawmakers push bill to ban most public mask wearing, citing crime

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are pushing forward with their plan to repeal a pandemic-era law that allowed the wearing of masks in public for health reasons.

Democratic lawmakers say it risks the health of those masking for safety reasons.

"You're making careful people into criminals with this bill," Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County said on the Senate floor. "It's a bad law."

But those backing the legislation say it is a needed response to the demonstrations, including those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that escalated to police clashes and arrests.

Republican legislators expressed doubt that someone would get in legal trouble for masking because of health concerns.

The bill focuses on criminalizing masks only for concealing one's identity, Wilson County Republican Sen. Buck Newton, who presented the bill, said on the Senate floor.

WATCH | 6 arrests, classes canceled at UNC after Palestinian protest clash

Pro-Palestine protesters at UNC removed an American flag and replaced it with the Palestine flag hours after protesters were arrested at the quad.

"I smell politics on the other side of the aisle when they're scaring people to death about a bill that is only going to criminalize people who are trying to hide their identity so they can do something wrong," Newton said.

Emancipate NC Director Dawn Blagrove does not agree.

"What happens is that every time our General Assembly...criminalizes more behavior," she said, "ultimately -- when the Palestinian protests die down -- the people who bear the burden of those new crimes are Black people, and that is the problem."

SEE ALSO | Pro-Palestinian protesters deface UNC's South Building with red paint, chalk

The Associated Press contributed to this report.