Masks more prevalent at NC legislature but still not mandatory

Posted January 14, 2021 7:35 p.m. EST

— Last year, masks were more a Democratic accessory at the state Legislative Building, but there was a bipartisan trend of covering faces on Wednesday when the General Assembly opened its 2021 session.

Even though North Carolina has had a statewide mask mandate since last summer, they still aren't required at the legislative complex, and House and Senate leaders said they aren't about to change that.

"There’s some people that can’t wear them for asthma or other reasons," House Speaker Tim Moore said. "There’s some people that don’t want to wear them as a political statement."

Most House members were wearing masks Wednesday, but a few still were not, despite the lack of distancing and the high number of lawmakers in high-risk groups for COVID-19.

Moore, R-Cleveland, said he doesn't agree with lawmakers who refuse to mask up.

"I don’t think it’s OK to do that, but these are individuals who are elected, just like I am, and that’s their choice to do it," he said. "I wear mine, and we strongly encourage it. But as far as mandating it, I’m going to let them make that choice."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he plans to cajole people and twist arms to get everyone's faces covered, but he won’t make masks mandatory.

"We’re more likely, it seems to me, to have the type of compliance if it’s done voluntarily as opposed to a top-down rule," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

On Wednesday, all senators were wearing masks. That persuaded Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue not to try to change the chamber's rules to require them, but he left the option on the table if it becomes a problem later.

"It’s going to constantly be an issue until it is practiced by everybody, at least in this chamber, for their own safety and for the caring of their fellow senators and the people who come here to watch us do business," said Blue, D-Wake.

Lawmakers have reason to be more cautious. Last month, the New Hampshire House speaker died of COVID-19, and three members of Congress tested positive for coronavirus this week after sheltering from the U.S. Capitol riot with an infected colleague who refused to wear a mask.

In the wake of the riot, the U.S. House will now fine anyone who doesn't wear a mask on the House floor during session. The penalty is $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second.

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