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North Carolina Senate votes to ban people from wearing masks in public for health reasons

RALEIGH, North Carolina — The North Carolina Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to ban anyone from wearing masks in public for health reasons, following an emotional debate over the wisdom of the proposal.

Republican supporters of the ban said it would help police crack down on protesters who wear masks – something some lawmakers have called a growing concern, saying protesters are abusing Covid pandemic-era norms – 19 to wear masks that hide their identity.

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“It’s time for this madness to at least slow down, if not literally stop,” said bill sponsor Buck Newton, R-Wilson.

The proposal has faced strong opposition from Democratic lawmakers, community activists and advocates for people with health conditions – who are concerned about the proposal’s consequences.

House Bill 237 would ban everyone, not just protesters, from wearing masks in public for medical reasons if it becomes law. It passed by a vote of 30 to 15, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.

“This is unconscionable,” said Sen. Lisa Grafstein, D-Wake.

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On Wednesday, Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, said he believed there was a way to interpret the law to argue that it would still be legal to wear a mask for legitimate health reasons — even if the bill would eliminate state law that provides these protections.

Democrats were not convinced. One lawmaker suggested there was another motive behind the changes.

“Do you really find masked chemo patients so threatening? Does something about them really make you angry?” asked Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg. “Or is it, more likely, a desire to score political points with anti-maskers during an election period, to the detriment of vulnerable people?”

The Senate also passed bills Wednesday that:

Each of the bills, after passing the Senate on Wednesday, must now also be approved by the House of Representatives before being sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who could sign or veto them.

Ban on masks

Democratic lawmakers have proposed different ways to amend the anti-mask bill to protect people who want to wear masks for health reasons. Republicans rejected each of these proposals, without explaining their opposition.

Sen. Sydney Batch, D-Wake, is a cancer survivor. She explained that her husband and children wore masks to protect her while she underwent treatment and that her immune system was weakened because of it.

“This bill criminalizes their behavior, as well as mine,” she said. “…We talk a lot about freedoms in this place. I hear it all the time. I should have the freedom — my children and my husband should have the freedom — to wear masks in order to protect myself and save my life , without fear of being arrested and charged.

Batch and Grafstein each proposed changing the bill in a way they said would still give police the power Republicans have said they want, to crack down on masked protesters, but to add legal protections for people who wear masks for public health reasons.

A third Wake County Democrat, Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, proposed amending the bill to prohibit hate groups — he specifically mentioned the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys — from being allowed to wear masks in public, for which the law currently allows them to file a petition. His amendment also would have required state law enforcement officials to do more to track down hate groups. Like the other amendments, Republican lawmakers rejected it without debate or explanation.

Protesters who wear masks or block traffic should face tougher penalties: North Carolina lawmakers

While Republicans ignored Democrats’ concerns, they said they trusted police officers not to abuse their power to arrest anyone wearing a surgical mask in public. Newton said Tuesday that there are no plans to “sue Grandma for wearing a mask in Walmart.”

But there is no reason to create a risk of abuse, several Democrats said. Several raised concerns that police could use the new anti-mask changes to more easily search or arrest people who are simply trying to go about their business.

Newton addressed these concerns Wednesday by claiming that public health exceptions were only adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic — and yet there is no record of anyone in North Carolina having been arrested for masking for health reasons before then, even though it was technically illegal.

He also added that if he had been elected in 2020, he would have voted against allowing people to wear masks for public health reasons.

Juvenile justice is changing

Also Wednesday, the Senate voted to pass House Bill 198 — increasing late fees on toll roads, expanding billboard companies’ power to cut down trees and other legislative requests from the Department of Agriculture. Transportation – as well as Bill 591, modernizing sex crimes. It includes new bans on the use of artificial intelligence to create nude images in certain circumstances, a ban on child-like sex dolls, and a ban on “sexual extortion” threats of making public someone’s private photos.

Both were adopted without debate; the sex crimes bill won unanimous support and the transportation changes were almost unanimous. But another bill that received more debate was House Bill 834, making changes to juvenile justice laws.

In the Senate on Wednesday, however, nearly all Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for the change. It went 41-4.

Supporters of the juvenile justice system cite studies showing that it works better than the adult prison system in preventing people from returning to criminal activity once they have served their sentences. Supporters of the bill, led by Britt, say adult prisons are often the best way to punish teenage offenders who commit violent crimes.

“It just makes the process go easier with juveniles involved in violent crimes,” Britt said during Wednesday’s debate, noting that there was also a provision in the bill to create a new crime for adults who incite minors to commit crimes.

“This primarily occurs when older gang members recruit children to commit violent crimes, knowing that a 15, 16, 17 or 14 year old is less likely to face any type of violent justice. .”

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