North Carolina Republicans push to repeal pandemic-era masking law – Davidson News

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are advancing a bill to repeal a pandemic-era law that allows masks to be worn in public for health reasons. This move is partly due to recent demonstrations against the Gaza war, where masked protesters were present on university campuses. On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill on a party-line 30-15 vote, despite opposition from the state's Senate Democrats who sought to amend the bill. The bill, which increases penalties for crimes committed while wearing a mask, including those committed by protesters, is still subject to change when it is introduced in the House of Representatives.

Source: Meidas Touch News

Health concerns vs. public safety

Opponents of the bill argue that it endangers the health of people who wear masks for safety reasons. But advocates say it will address the disruption caused by recent protests, such as at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which led to clashes with police and arrests. The bill also criminalizes blocking streets or emergency vehicles during protests, a tactic used at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Raleigh and Durham.

Historical context and partisan debate

Current opposition is focused on removing health and safety exemptions for wearing masks in public. These exemptions were added at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with bipartisan support. According to sociologist David Cunningham, removing these exemptions would result in public masking rules reverting to pre-pandemic levels, which were put in place in 1953 to curb Ku Klux Klan activities in North Carolina. Since the pandemic, masks have become a partisan issue, and the Senate debate reflected that divide. Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns that removing health protections for mask wearers could criminalize immunocompromised people. Legislative staff confirmed that wearing masks for health reasons would violate the proposed law.

Concerns of immunocompromised people

Simone Hetherington, an immunocompromised person, spoke about the importance of masking to her health during Wednesday's Senate committee meeting. She fears the new law would impact her ability to protect herself from disease. Despite these concerns, Republican lawmakers argued that enforcement discretion would prevent health-related masking from being punished. Newton emphasized that the bill targets those who hide their identities for criminal purposes.

North Carolina Republicans are pushing to repeal pandemic-era masking law
Source: ABC

Future of the bill

Three Senate Democrats proposed amendments to maintain the health exemption and bar hate groups from masking, but Senate Republicans blocked them without a vote. Future changes to the bill are possible, but the decision rests with the House of Representatives. Robeson County Republican Sen. Danny Britt mentioned the likelihood of “some tweaks,” and House Committee Chairman Destin Hall said the House plans to review the bill, emphasizing the need to crack down on masked individuals who To commit crime. The bill is expected to go through several committees before reaching the House floor, which Hall said could take one to two weeks.

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