Policy /

North Carolina Senate Advances Mask Ban Legislation

Lawmakers seek additional penalties for anyone wearing a face covering while arrested during a pro-Palestine protest

North Carolina Senate Advances Mask Ban Legislation

In the wake of the 2020 pandemic, the sight of people wearing medical face masks became a regular part of daily life.

Now, a new legislative push in North Carolina aims to address the evolving implications of mask-wearing. State lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal that would impose additional penalties on individuals arrested while wearing a mask during protests, raising new questions about civil liberties and public safety.

The proposed legislation was introduced following the surge of campus protests sweeping the U.S., where college and university students have demonstrated against the ongoing military campaign in Gaza.

The bill enhances penalties for a person who wears a mask while committing a crime or intentionally blocks traffic during a protest.

If an individual is found guilty of wearing a mask or other piece of clothing to conceal their identity while committing a crime, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor or felony one class higher than the underlying offense for which they were convicted, according to a summary of the bill.

“If the defendant would be eligible for active punishment based on the defendant's offense class and prior record level, the court would be required to order a term of imprisonment,” the summary explains.

The law would allow exemptions for wearing a mask as part of a Halloween costume; Mardi Gras celebrations and masquerade balls; individuals who work in occupations where a mask is required for safety; as well as gas masks used in civil defense drills and exercises or emergencies.

The proposed bill is backed by Republicans who hold a majority in the state legislature, but faces strong opposition from Democrats, activists and people with ongoing health issues.

During public comment, some expressed disapproval of the legislation, including Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of the North Carolina For the People voter engagement coalition, who called the legislation an “anti-protest bill” that sought to curb free speech, the Associated Press reported.

Shortly after the legislation was advanced out of committee, the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board issued sharp criticism of the proposal.

“This is, plain and simple, a ridiculous bill. It should make everyone uncomfortable, regardless of whether or not you personally wish to wear a mask in public,” the Board wrote.

“It may be true that this was not a problem before COVID, and nobody was arresting ‘Granny’ or chemo patients for masking up in public. But the exception lawmakers crafted during COVID also hasn’t been a problem, certainly not enough to justify taking away people’s freedom of choice. Or is ‘freedom’ only what Republican lawmakers want it to be?” the Board added.

*For corrections please email [email protected]*