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North Carolinians oppose anti-protest and campaign finance legislation • NC Newsline

Advocates from several organizations held a news conference Tuesday morning outside the North Carolina Legislative Building to oppose a bill that would regulate mask-wearing, affect protest rights and change state campaign finance laws.

Last month, the North Carolina House rejected controversial Senate amendments to the bill that would, among other things, ban the wearing of masks in public, even for health reasons.

The new language unveiled last Thursday allows people to wear only “a medical or surgical grade mask” to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This exemption is more limited than the current broad exemption in COVID-era state law.

The proposal also allows law enforcement officers to request that people remove their masks for identification purposes. Property owners can also request that people temporarily remove their masks for identification purposes.

Cheryl Carter, co-director of Democracy NC
Cheryl Carter, co-executive director of Democracy NC, explains how chronic health conditions require her to wear a mask when she goes out. She fears HB 237 would endanger her health.

Cheryl Carter, co-executive director of Democracy NC, said she worries that anyone can ask someone to remove their mask.

Carter said she has asthma and experiences frequent upper respiratory infections year-round. She also has chronic bronchitis and her medical history requires her to wear masks at all times when outdoors.

“Any time without a mask puts me at risk,” Carter explained.

The authority of law enforcement agencies or private individuals to determine what constitutes a medical-grade mask is also problematic, Carter said.

“Why are we giving that power (to law enforcement) and asking law enforcement to do one more thing in their job? Why do we say that a manager at Walmart can look at me and say, ‘I don’t recognize you, I feel threatened and want you to drop your mask’?”

Carter suggested the measure would endanger her life.

“Anti-protest”

The controversial bill, which would also increase criminal penalties for those who commit crimes while wearing a mask in public, comes in the wake of protests that have erupted on college campuses across the country in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. It would create a new offense for blocking traffic, a tactic used at some recent protests.

Sen. Buck Newton (R-Greene, Wayne and Wilson), who sponsored the committee replacement last month, said it aims to restore a law that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really just resetting the law to what it was before COVID,” Newton said at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last month. “That’s really the goal now: to deal with organizations and individuals who want to break the law and hide their identity, and use hiding their identity as a way to intimidate other people – to get away with it.”

“House Bill 237 is a blatant attempt to retaliate against protesters who exercise their right to protest at the expense of historically marginalized communities,” said Shruti Parikh of North Carolina Asian American Together.

“The timing of this bill is no coincidence. It is clear retaliation against protesters on our university campuses who spoke out against the genocide in Gaza,” Parikh said.

Under the bill, intentionally obstructing traffic during a protest on a street or highway would become a Class A1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a fine.

Protesters who obstruct traffic while wearing masks during a protest could also be charged with misdemeanor assault.

“We have a constitutional right to protest. However, our General Assembly and a few men here have decided that if we are not protesting for the things that uphold and support white supremacy, we should no longer be able to protest,” said Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC. “That is a capture of everyone’s democracy.”

Campaign finance law

Speakers also voiced their opposition to changes to campaign finance law, which were quietly included at the last minute in House Bill 237.

Last week, in an unexpected move that caught Democrats by surprise, Republican lawmakers made significant changes to state campaign finance laws.

The move led to all twenty Democrats in the Senate walking out of the House in protest as the bill was quickly put to a vote. It was approved 28-0 by Republicans who remained in the Senate.

“By hiding these campaign finance policies behind the already troubling mask law, Republican lawmakers have made it clear that their goal is to undermine the people’s votes and instead open our elections to more outside, behind-the-scenes money of their voters,” Parikh said. said.

The NC NAACP said HB 237 diminishes the power of the people. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)

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