North Carolina lawmakers approve reworked mask bill allowing for health exemption after pushback

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North Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation to increase penalties for people who wear masks in public while committing crimes or while blocking traffic during protests.

A previous version of the bill — which amends the state statues on masking — failed to get the necessary support after facing blowback for removing a health exemption added in 2020 to allow people to wear masks in public for health purposes.

The crux of the new bill still looks to crack down on those who wear masks while committing crimes in public. But the new bill now includes language that allows people to wear “medical or surgical grade masks” to prevent the “spread of contagious disease.”

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The state General Assembly passed the measure in a 69-43 vote. The state Senate approved the reworked bill last week. It now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) desk.

The effort to revise the masking laws came in response to a wave of campus protests across the country that saw many protestors wearing masks — or otherwise covering their faces — while demonstrating against the war in Gaza.

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The state statutes on masking date back to 1953, when the state legislature passed a slew of new restrictions as a way to curb Ku Klux Klan membership in North Carolina, The Associated Press reported.

When Republican lawmakers initially tried to move the legislation through the legislature last month, the Senate approved the measure, but one Republican held it up in the General Assembly, taking issue with the removal of the health exemption. With a narrow supermajority, all Republicans must vote together in order to reach the veto-proof threshold.

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The measure was sent back to a committee of GOP lawmakers, who negotiated a deal on the bill last week.

The Associated Press contributed.

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