North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper took little time to sign into law Friday a bill that, for an indefinite period of time, permits the wearing of masks during a declared public-health emergency.
Without the continuing authorization provided in Senate Bill 232, it would have once again become illegal on Aug. 1 to wear a mask in public settings. That 1952 statute was aimed at the hood-wearing Ku Klux Kla.
SB232 passed 43-4 in the N.C. Senate in Raleigh on Wednesday and 102-2 in the N.C. House on Tuesday.
Cooper said in a statement Friday that “the overwhelming support for this legislation demonstrates support among state leaders for wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
“This is important as we move forward to limit the spread of the virus, so we can educate our children and push the economy forward,” he said.
The new mask law also includes language that would repeal any law making death-investigation records confidential once they are sent to a medical examiner.
The face mask language allows for the wearing of a face covering in public “for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.”
People would still have to remove their masks if a law-enforcement officer asks them to during a traffic stop, and when an officer “has reasonable suspicion or probable cause during a criminal investigation.”
The initial version of SB232 contained language to remove any civil or criminal liability from business owners and operators for adhering to a governor’s executive order requiring the wearing of a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. The language also applied to county and city ordinances.
Business owners and operators would have had to “clearly post” signs at entrances saying that face masks were required by executive order or local ordinance. The signs would prevent owners and operators from being in violation of the executive order and local ordinances.
That language was removed in an effort to get the face-mask-in-public legislation through the legislature.
The move to seal certain death-investigation records surfaced as part of Senate Bill 168, which made several technical modifications to existing state laws. One of the changes made private “all information and records provided by a city, county or other public entity to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or its agents, concerning a death investigation.”
As public awareness of SB 168’s death-investigation language grew and the bill became the focus of protests in Winston-Salem and Raleigh, Cooper faced pressure to veto the bill, which he did Monday.
The Senate Republican leadership sent SB168 to the Rules and Operations Committee on Tuesday. It was not included Wednesday with two other Senate bills in which veto override votes were held but failed.
Cooper said in his veto statement that the provision “could have the unintended consequence of limiting transparency in death investigations.”
“While I believe neither the Department of Health and Human Services which proposed it, nor the General Assembly which unanimously passed it, had any ill intent, the concerns that have since been raised make it clear this provision should not become law,” he said.