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North Carolina lawmakers approve mask bill that allows health exemption after pushback

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A new, reworked version of a bill that originally caught flak for removing a pandemic-era health exemption for wearing a mask in public was approved by North Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday.

The amended bill still increases punishments for people wearing masks while committing a crime. It was brought forth in part as a response to campus protests on the war in Gaza. The previous version of the bill would have also barred masking in public for health reasons.

Following extended debate from Democrats, the General Assembly passed the measure in a 69-43 vote. The state Senate passed the compromise bill last week. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

The legislation — which previously removed a 2020 exemption for wearing a mask in public for health purposes — moved swiftly through the Senate last month. But it halted in the House after Rep. Erin Pare, Wake County’s lone Republican General Assembly member, said she wouldn’t approve it because of the health exemption removal. Republicans have a narrow supermajority in the legislature that requires all party members to remain in lockstep to approve bills and override vetoes.

The House then sent the bill back to a committee of GOP lawmakers to negotiate changes. They reached a deal on the bill last week.

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