Law restricting mask-wearing in public moves one step closer to passing

State legislators are working to reinstitute a law prohibiting the wearing of face masks in public as a way to hide a criminal’s identity amid pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses across North Carolina.

Under North Carolina’s criminal law, it is generally a crime for an individual to wear a mask in public – with several exceptions including for health and safety reasons. But now, senators are prepared to repeal that exception. 

“Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” was approved during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday morning. The legislation aims to address individuals and organizations that break the law and hide their identities to intimidate others and get away with their unlawful actions. 

The proposal explicitly states that “individuals would no longer be able to wear masks in public for health or safety reasons.” The law would not just repeal the health and safety exception but also enhance the criminal punishment if a defendant wears a mask to conceal their identity while committing a crime. 

“What a lot of people probably don’t recall is that we’re just really resetting the law to what it was pre-COVID,” said Sen. Buck Netwon, R-Wilson. “We had this legislation in place banning masks to deal with secret societies like the KKK. That’s what the purpose of this legislation was then, and that’s really what the purpose is now, to deal with organizations and individuals who are intent on breaking the law and hiding their identity.”

Newton reasoned that the original legislation pre-COVID did not spur any issues and said opponents are stoking fear. He insisted that personnel such as law enforcement and district attorneys will use common sense when prosecuting masked individuals.

Additionally, the proposed legislation would impose criminal and civil liability on individuals obstructing emergency vehicles during demonstrations. The bill now heads to the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee for further consideration. 

“This bill really is not trying to address healthcare issues that individuals may have – chemotherapy or other immunocompromised-type situations,” added Newton. “I understand why that may concern them… this was not a problem pre-COVID.”

Public testimony came from individuals representing the Emancipate NC, ACLU of North Carolina, the NC Justice Center, and Disability Rights North Carolina. They were all opposed to the rule, including several state legislators who voiced their concerns. 

“I’ve had a lot of emails from folks who don’t want it to be illegal for them to wear a mask in public for their safety or for their health of either themselves or people around them,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg. “Stated plainly your bill will make it illegal. You can say, ‘Well, I told them in the judiciary committee back in May 2024 that I didn’t really mean to make it illegal, and that we don’t intend for anyone to get punished or pulled aside by a police officer or whatever – that wasn’t my intent.’ But we’re all attorneys in here and lawmakers, and I think we would agree that in any other context, we make sure that the bill says what we mean for it to say.”

The post Law restricting mask-wearing in public moves one step closer to passing first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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