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Why are North Carolina lawmakers trying to ban wearing masks in public?

The North Carolina Senate passed a bill that will revoke pandemic-era exemptions for face mask wearing in public, including for health and safety reasons.

GOP-controlled NC Senate says masks off

The Republican-controlled North Carolina Senate voted 30-15 along party lines to pass legislation that would revoke a pandemic-era law allowing people to wear face masks in public for health reasons. The move was prompted by protests against the war in Gaza that have erupted on campuses in the state and across the nation.

The main focus of the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” bill, as it is being called, is to enhance penalties for wearing a mask during a crime or demonstration. Supporters say that protesters are abusing the pandemic-era changes to hide their identities.

“It’s about time that the craziness is at least slowed down, if not literally stopped,” said bill sponsor Republican Sen. Buck Newton.

No health and safety concern exemptions allowed

Opponents of the bill pushed for exemptions so that it would not be a criminal act for a person to wear a face mask for legitimate medical reasons. However, all attempts by Democrats to amend the anti-mask bill were squashed by their GOP colleagues without defending the reason why.

That included one to prohibit hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, from being allowed to wear masks in public. Under the current law currently they can file a petition to be allowed to wear them.

Democratic Sen. Sydney Batch, who is a cancer survivor, in expressing her opposition to the legislation explained her own family’s experience when she was undergoing treatment. Due to her weakened immune system, not only did she wear a mask, but also her husband and children wore masks to protect her. “This bill criminalizes their behavior, and mine,” she said.

“I should have the freedom — my children and my husband should have the freedom — to wear masks in order to protect and save my life, without fear of being arrested and charged.”

The bill specifically states that “individuals would no longer be able to wear masks in public for health or safety reasons,” essentially criminalizing the act.

Others like Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus questioned aloud if Republican lawmakers weren’t pandering to anti-maskers in an election year as masks have become a partisan flashpoint since the pandemic.

“Is it really that you find masked chemo patients that threatening? Something about them makes you really angry? Or is this, more likely, a desire to score some political points with the anti-mask crowd during an election year, at the expense of vulnerable people?” Marcus queried.

The legislation will now go back to the GOP-controlled House, which first proposed the bill, where alterations could be made by committees. The process could take one or two weeks, and then it would go onto the Governor Roy Cooper’s desk, whose a Democrat, where it could be vetoed.

However, Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers of the state’s legislature that could override any attempt to stop the anti-mask bill from becoming the law in North Carolina.