State's anti-mask law again an issue as lawmakers look to wrap session

As legislators gather for potential veto override attempts, it's unclear where the Senate stands on an old law forbidding North Carolinians from wearing masks in public.

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Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — House members sent their Senate counterparts another mask bill Tuesday, along with one that fills a $25 million hole created Monday night when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed one of his own agency's bills.

The question is: Will the Senate act on either one?

The answer is unclear. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office would not say Tuesday.

The mask issue divided the two chambers when they wrapped up the bulk of the legislative session early one Friday morning last month.

As it stands now, technically, come Aug. 1, it will be illegal to wear a mask in public in North Carolina, despite science that says they stem coronavirus transmission and in spite of state and local orders requiring them. That's because an old anti-mask law targeting the KKK remains on the books, and lawmakers have agreed to suspend it only until August.

Talks to extend that broke down somewhere around 2 a.m. on June 26.

The House's bid to extend that suspension lives now in Senate Bill 232, which until Monday night was also going to be a way to repeal controversial language keeping death investigation records from the public.

Cooper mooted that portion of the bill Monday night when he vetoed the underlying measure.

In doing so, the governor also killed off pages of policy his Department of Health and Human Services had requested and funding language that controlled some $25 million in federal grants. To address that, the House pasted the grants language Tuesday into Senate Bill 380.

Then it sent that language and the masks bill over to the Senate on nearly unanimous votes.

The House initially included language that the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association had requested to deal with Cooper's mask order, which puts some responsibility on stores to enforce the state's mask requirement. That language said stores could meet that responsibility simply by posting signs telling people they must wear masks.

But that language proved problematic enough to some to warrant its removal Tuesday over concerns that it would cause controversy. A lobbyist for the Retail Merchants Association said she will work with DHHS to see if an administrative solution can be had without requiring the General Assembly to pass a law.

It's also possible that language will pop back up Wednesday in another bill.

The House and the Senate are both in session Wednesday, primarily to deal with other bills Cooper has vetoed. Leaders from both chambers have said they hope to wrap their business by the end of the day and adjourn until Sept. 2.


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