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The North Carolina State Senate on Wednesday voted 30-15, along party lines, in favor of a Republican bill that would make it illegal for people in the state to wear a mask in public for health reasons. The bill is now moving to the House, where it could potentially see changes.

The proposed ban on health-based masking is part of a larger bill otherwise aimed at increasing penalties for people wearing masks to conceal their identity while committing a crime or impeding traffic. The bill was largely spurred by recent protests on university and college campuses across the country, including North Carolina-based schools, against the war in Gaza. In recent months, there have been demonstrations in Raleigh and Durham that have blocked roadways, as well as clashes on the nearby campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Some demonstrators were seen wearing masks in those events.

But the bill, House Bill 237, goes a step further by making it illegal to wear a mask in public for health and safety reasons, either to protect the wearer, those around them, or both. Specifically, the bill repeals a 2020 legal exemption, enacted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed for public health-based masking for the first time in decades.

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