NC Republicans reach compromise on masking bill, allowing only ‘medical’ face coverings

State House and Senate Republicans negotiating a compromise on the mask bill that stalled last month have reached an agreement.

The Senate-passed version of the bill would’ve repealed an exception to the state’s longstanding ban on wearing a mask in public for health and safety reasons.

The version of the bill negotiated between Republicans in both chambers, addressing concerns from House Republicans about whether people could continue to wear masks for health and safety reasons without fearing that they could be violating the law, keeps the provision in place but rewrites it.

The new bill unveiled Thursday morning would only allow the wearing of a “medical or surgical grade mask” for the purpose of “preventing the spread of contagious disease.”

The exception is currently written more broadly, and allows wearing any kind of mask to ensure “the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.”

Here’s what else the bill does:

“Enhanced sentence if defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and the defendant was wearing a mask or other clothing or device to conceal or attempt to conceal the defendant’s identity.”

A person wearing a mask should “remove the mask upon request by a law enforcement officer or temporarily remove the mask upon request by the owner or occupant of public or private property where the wearer is present to allow for identification of the wearer.”

There is also a religious exemption. The bill states that no religious institution is subject to an executive order, secretarial declaration or municipal or local government prohibition or restriction.

Votes coming up

The compromise between the two chambers for House Bill 237 was introduced in the House Thursday morning, after House members quickly took up other bills on their calendar for the day.

Speaker Tim Moore announced that the compromise bill had been agreed upon, and referred it to the House Rules Committee, which planned to convene while the House took a brief recess.

Moore said he expected the bill could be back on the House floor for a vote later Thursday morning. Before House Rules met, House Republicans got together for a caucus meeting right after session.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the compromise bill, called a conference report, was read in and added by Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon to the end of the Senate’s morning session.

Rabon allowed Senate Democrats to caucus about the bill changes, so the Senate went into a brief recess before taking up the bill again.