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Controversial anti-masking, campaign finance bill heads to governor’s desk

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Controversial anti-masking, campaign finance bill heads to governor’s desk

Jun 11, 2024 | 8:34 pm ET
By Ahmed Jallow
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Controversial anti-masking, campaign finance bill heads to governor’s desk
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North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (Photo: NCGA video stream)

On Tuesday, North Carolina House Republicans voted in favor of a controversial bill that would restrict mask wearing in public, crack down on protesters, and change the state’s campaign finance laws. The House voted 69-43, sending the measure titled “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” to the governor’s desk.

Last month, the North Carolina House rejected controversial Senate amendments to the bill that would have, among other things, banned wearing masks in public, even for health reasons.

The new language, unveiled last Thursday and voted on today, allows people to wear only “a medical or surgical grade mask” to prevent the spread of contagious disease. This exemption is narrower than the current, broad COVID-era exemption in state law.

Still, some Democrats on the House floor complained that the bill does not offer enough legal protection for mask wearers.

“This bill makes it possible for those who do choose to mask for health reasons to be discriminated against and harassed by making it possible for anyone, and I mean anyone, to ask somebody to remove their mask, almost for any reason,” said Rep. Sarah Crawford, D-Wake.

The bill moved quickly through the Rules Committee earlier in the afternoon and then was sent to the House floor for a vote.

The proposal also allows law enforcement officers to request people to remove their masks for identification purposes. Property owners can also request that people temporarily remove their masks for identification.

The legislation would increase criminal penalties for those who commit crimes while wearing a mask in public. It comes in the wake of protests that erupted on college campuses across the country in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. It would create a new offense for blocking traffic, a tactic used in some recent protests.

Earlier in the day, advocates spoke out against the fast-moving piece of legislation.

Controversial anti-masking, campaign finance bill heads to governor’s desk
Jovita Lee of Advance Carolina speaks against HB 237

Jovita Lee, policy director of Advance Carolina, said the bill targets the fundamental right to protest.

“My ability to enter a city bus and stand or be able to sit behind the driver rather than in the back is a direct result of the power of protest. My ability to cast a ballot and not have to pay a poll tax or complete illiteracy test is rooted in the power of protest. My ability to walk into a restaurant or store and utilize the front entrance is rooted in the power of protest. My very being as a Black woman in this current state in this country at this time is rooted in the power of protest. It’s a power that they are trying to eliminate,” said Lee outside the legislature Tuesday morning.

The bill also contains a provision that would significantly change campaign finance laws, which Republicans have said will “level the playing field.”

Veteran political watchdog Bob Hall said this aspect of the bill amounts to “legalizing a money laundering scheme.”

Governor Cooper will now decide whether to sign or veto HB 237.

For more on the mask and campaign finance bill read this and this.