Senate Republicans supported a bill restricting the wearing of masks in public last week, but their colleagues in the House shut down the bill within minutes during a floor session on Wednesday afternoon.

Rep Erin Paré, R-Wake, asked that the House not concur with the Senate’s changes to House Bill 237, “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals.” She explained that the Senate intends to return to pre-COVID rules, before the specific exemption for medical masking was put in place during the pandemic.

The bill restricts the wearing of face masks in public to hide a criminal’s identity. It passed the Senate along party lines, with opponents arguing that the law could criminalize the simple wearing of masks in public for health reasons. The language seeks to ultimately revoke health and safety exemptions, which spurred bipartisan concern.

“I move that the house do not concur with the Senate changes to House Bill 237,” Paré declared. 

After a brief question and one comment, the motion was promptly approved by the majority of the chamber. 

“This bill as written infringes on our constitutional first amendment rights and puts at risk the health and safety of our communities. It impedes on the rights of individuals who may mask for health reasons,” said Rep. Sarah Crawford, D-Wake.

Over the weekend, Paré announced that she would not support the Senate’s changes to the bill, mentioning public confusion over the language and the freedom every individual has to wear a mask for their personal health. The announcement prompted other Republicans in the House to voice their concerns with the bill, including Rep. Chris Humphrey, R-Greene.

Legal experts at the John Locke Foundation explained last week that the bill would criminalize the wearing of masks for medical purposes in all the relevant situations. They suspected it was not a problem until COVID-19 made masks relevant again in 2020, when legislators amended the criminal law to provide an exemption for wearing a mask for health reasons. 

“While many now doubt the efficacy of wearing masks during Covid, that doesn’t justify making it a criminal offense to wear a mask for medical purposes,” said Jon Guze, Senior Fellow in Legal Studies at Locke. “There may very well be legitimate medical reasons why some people need to wear masks now, and it’s perfectly possible that masks will turn out to be effective against a different kind of epidemic in the future. If the bill becomes law and is enforced against someone wearing a mask for medical purposes, I suspect this provision will be struck down under the Law of the Land Clause of the NC Constitution.”