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North Carolina Lawmakers Add Health Exemption to Bill Limiting Masking

by News7

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina struck a compromise on a bill that now maintains a health exemption for masking in public while preventing the use of masks during criminal activity, but only one chamber chose to vote on it Thursday.

The state Senate passed the new masking bill — negotiated by both chambers to remedy concerns on the removal of a pandemic-era health exemption — in a 28-0 vote that Senate Democrats were absent from in protest. But after a canceled committee and a lengthy private discussion among House Republicans, the House did not take up an immediate vote, which stalls the bill’s advance to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) for at least a few more days.

Republican supporters say the legislation was prompted in part by the widespread use of masks by those protesting on college campuses nationwide against Israel’s war in Gaza — including at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Before the compromise, the bill eliminated a 2020 exemption for people who wore masks for health purposes in public, which outraged Democrats who said immunocompromised people could be unfairly targeted.

Under the new changes, the bill now allows anyone in public to wear “a medical or surgical grade mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease.” It also adds the ability of private property owners to ask someone to temporarily remove their mask to identify them.

Another addition to the bill allows some federal political committees greater latitude in making donations to county and state parties in North Carolina.

The new version of the bill also retains some original aspects of the legislation, such as enhancing punishments for people who wear a mask while committing a crime or purposefully block traffic during a demonstration.

The bill had moved quickly through the Senate until Rep. Erin Pare, Wake County’s only Republican General Assembly member, posted on X that she wouldn’t vote for the bill if it removed the health exemption. Her opposition led the House to pump the brakes on the bill’s passage 2 weeks ago, which sent it to a negotiations team of lawmakers to reach a compromise.

Now, Pare told the AP she was happy with the health provision, saying it was “the right thing to do.” The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services drafted that specific language, she said.

To assuage concerns on the new bill version, House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters it needs to go through a vetting process before House members would pass it. Then, the chamber will vote on Tuesday.

“There’s no major rush,” Moore said. “Let’s just wait and deal with it next week.”

Source : MedPageToday

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