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NC bill removing health and safety exception for wearing masks passes Senate

RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill that would remove the health and safety exception from North Carolina’s mask ban is heading to the House.

House Bill 237, called the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” bill, passed the Senate Wednesday.

North Carolina has had a ban on face masks since 1953. But early on in the pandemic, lawmakers made a health and safety exception to the law so people could protect themselves from COVID-19.

The Unmasking Mobs and Criminals bill would repeal that exception.

GOP bill sponsor Sen. Buck Newton said this is about preventing people from using masks to conceal their identity when they are committing crimes. But some Democratic lawmakers worry it will harm people who are immunocompromised.

“My issue is we are removing the specific section that gave people who are immunocompromised or people who are sick and just care about the community — someone walking around with tuberculosis wants to wear a mask to protect everyone else — is no longer able to do that based on this bill,” Democratic Sen. Sydney Batch said.

“I would like to meet the law enforcement officer or the DA that wants to prosecute granny for wearing a mask in the Walmart,” Sen Newton said. “Unless she got arrested sticking steaks in her bag and trying to conceal her identity — then I could see it happening — and that’s what this bill is designed to address.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper said he’s also concerned about the bill.

“The Governor has real concerns about this legislation that would prevent medically vulnerable people from protecting their health,” the spokesperson said.

The bill also enhances penalties for people who purposely block traffic during a protest.

The Senate passed the bill 30-15. There’s no word yet on when or if the House will take up the bill.

VIDEO: UNC Charlotte protesters march to chancellor’s house