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North Carolina lawmakers pass ban on face masks in public even for medical reasons

Republican supporters of the bill said eliminating face masks, even for medical conditions, would help law enforcement crack down on unlawful protests. Critics say the masks would make things safer for people who are immunocompromised, including those undergoing cancer treatments.

Published: May 15, 2024 10:50pm

Updated: May 15, 2024 10:52pm

Both chambers of the North Carolina state legislature have now passed a ban on wearing face masks in public, even for medical reasons, after anti-Israel protesters used the masks to conceal their identities during recent demonstrations.

Thousands of college students and protesters have been arrested nationwide over anti-Israel protests and encampments on college campuses. But the students partaking in the protests have been difficult to identify in some cases, because of face masks that were first implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although face masks are no longer required in public, some people with medical conditions still opt to use them in public settings.

The bill passed the GOP-controlled state Senate on Wednesday in a vote on party lines, which included 30 people voting in favor of the legislation, and 15 voting against. Five people were absent, the Hill reported. It passed the House last week, and now goes to the desk of the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who could veto it. However, should he issue the veto, Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers that could override it.

The main crux of the bill is focused on increasing punishments for people who wear masks while committing crimes and for people that block traffic during protests. But the safety concerns are the most controversial. Republican supporters of the bill said that eliminating face masks, even for medical conditions, would help law enforcement crack down on unlawful protests, which recently broke out at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Critics of the bill said the masks made things safer for people who were immunocompromised, including those who were undergoing cancer treatments. Democratic state Sen. Sydney Batch said she and her family wore masks in public after the pandemic to help keep her safe while she was undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer.

One conservative state senator, Buck Newton, brushed off concerns that the law was overly broad, claiming that he expected law enforcement to use common sense when it comes to arrests, and that "Granny" was not getting arrested before the pandemic.

“You say, ‘Well, this wasn’t a problem before COVID,’” Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus said Tuesday in response, during discussions on the bill, per the Associated Press. “The world is different now. We can’t go back to when pandemics didn’t happen.”

Newton said he was open to revisiting the law and amending it if there are too many issues. 

Misty Severi is an evening news reporter for Just the News. You can follow her on X for more coverage.

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