Proposed NC Bill Restricting Wearing Masks Sparks Debate

A bill proposed by Republican lawmakers in North Carolina that would increase penalties for wearing masks during protests or crimes has drawn criticism for potentially making it illegal to wear masks in public for health reasons. The legislation, which passed its first committee Tuesday was partly motivated by recent protests on university campuses against Israel’s war in Gaza.

While the main focus of the bill is to enhance punishments for people using masks to conceal their identity during a crime or while intentionally blocking traffic during protests, most complaints from Democrats centered on the removal of pandemic-era exemptions that allowed people to wear masks in public for medical reasons.

State Sen. Buck Newton (R) stood up to criticism of the bill, asserting that authorities would apply the law with “good common sense.” However, Democratic state Sen. Natasha Marcus argued that the world has changed since the pandemic and that returning to pre-COVID norms is unrealistic.

The bill also faced criticism during public comment with some calling it an “anti-protest bill” that aimed to curb free speech.

Newton said he could revisit the bill if issues arise and plans to meet with Batch to discuss her concerns before the legislation reaches the Senate floor. While the bill is expected to pass the Senate, its prioritization in the House remains uncertain.