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North Carolina bill would make it illegal to wear masks in public

North Carolina’s Republican senators on Wednesday passed a bill repealing a pandemic-era law allowing the wearing of masks in public for health reasons.

The legislative proposal, dubbed the “Unmask the Crowds and Criminals” bill, was adopted by 30 votes to 15, despite protests from some Democratic senators who wanted to modify it, authorizing the exception of wearing a mask in public for all person who feels healthy, or the health of their loved ones is compromised without them.

The main goal of the bill is to strengthen penalties against people wearing a mask while committing a crime, which can include protests, and intentionally blocking traffic during protests.

“It’s time for this madness to be…at least slowed down, if not stopped,” Republican Sen. Buck Newton, who introduced the bill, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

He could not be reached Thursday afternoon for additional comment.

Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus said Thursday the bill endangers the public’s health and turns otherwise law-abiding people into criminals.

“It is a criminal act to wear a mask to protect yourself or others from contagious diseases,” Marcus said.

She said she’s heard from voters “desperate for someone to listen to them when they say, ‘I’m immunocompromised, or someone in my family is, or I’m in chemotherapy, or I have a disability.’ There are many reasons why people should and should have the freedom to wear a mask to protect themselves. »

The latest version of the bill, which returns to the House, where it was originally proposed and could still be amended, repeals “the health and safety exemption from certain laws prohibiting the wearing of masks in public.”

“Individuals would no longer be able to wear masks in public for health or safety reasons,” according to the bill.

The ACLU of North Carolina opposes the bill and calls it “deeply troubling, undemocratic and unconstitutional.” The organization said the bill was a response to “pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses.”

“When we look at the behaviors that lawmakers highlight in support of the bill – trespassing, assault on law enforcement, and damage to public property – we know that these things are already illegal. Since it is the case, what is this bill actually about? the statement said, adding that it was “about suppressing dissent.”

Supporters of the bill argued it was necessary in response to protests, including those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which escalated into clashes with police and arrests.

Protests and encampments have erupted on college campuses since Hamas attacked Israel in October. Although most campus protests remained peaceful, there were occasional clashes between police and demonstrators, some of whom wore surgical masks.

Newton on Tuesday brushed off concerns that removing exemptions on masks amid a pandemic was too broad, saying he expects officials to use “common sense.”

“We didn’t see grandma get arrested at Walmart before Covid,” he said as he introduced the bill to the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Marcus said Thursday it’s not fair to put the onus on law enforcement to exercise discretion.

“This is not how criminal law is supposed to work. Either it’s a crime or it’s not,” she said, adding that the bill’s passage in the Senate by Republicans is nothing more than a culture war vote.

“They are clearly trying to feed red meat to their anti-vax, anti-science, anti-mask base with this bill,” Marcus said. “I think this was initially sparked by student protests on various campuses across our state. But the fact is, if they just wanted to respond to these student protests, they didn’t need to ban masks for everyone. world.”

The masking bill will likely pass through a few committees before reaching the House, which could take a week or two, according to House Rules Committee Chairman Destin Hall.

The Republicans have a supermajority in the House and the Senate. Marcus said if the bill passed the House, she hoped Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, would veto it.

No one from Cooper’s office could immediately be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

The health exemption was added at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic along largely bipartisan lines.

The repeal would return public masking rules to their pre-pandemic form — created in 1953 to solve a different problem: limiting Ku Klux Klan activity in North Carolina, according to a 2012 book by the sociology professor of Washington University in St. Louis, David Cunningham.

Stacy Staggs, 47, of Charlotte, has 10-year-old twin girls who are immunocompromised because they were born prematurely.

One of the twins was placed on a ventilator for 88 days after birth, causing her to develop chronic lung disease, and underwent a tracheotomy, a procedure to open the windpipe to help her breathe better, said Staggs Thursday.

“The things that hit us a little bit, hit her really hard and it takes weeks or months to get over it,” Staggs said.

Staggs said she wears a mask, as do her daughters, whenever they go out in public.

“I’m beside myself. I can’t imagine that we’ve gotten to a point where protecting the health and safety of individuals is a criminal act,” she said. “There is nothing criminal about my lifestyle or my actions.”

News Source : www.nbcnews.com
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