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Masks, campaign finance bill goes to governor

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(The Center Square) – Veto of legislation on wearing a mask in public, and updates to campaign finance law, is more likely than not from North Carolina’s governor following votes in the General Assembly.

Second-term Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday was presented Various Criminal and Election Law Changes, also known as House Bill 237. The bill originally filed March 1, 2023, has changed significantly since, and in part due to the events in the state reactionary to a war in the Middle East between Hamas and Israel.

Cooper has vetoed more bills than any governor in the state’s history, and for this bill, Democrats in the Senate walked out rather than voting last week. This week, the House had no Democrats for it and no Republicans against it. Granted, Cooper is 0-for-19 in this two-year session when trying to turn back legislation favored by the Grand Old Party lawmakers.

The campaign finance insertion came as an 11th hour style surprise before the Senate voted. Republicans say it levels the playing field among major parties; Democrats have scoffed and say it allows outside influence to determine election winners.

Corporations cannot give money directly to candidates, per state law. They can give directly to federal political fundraising committees known as 527 organizations and do so in unlimited amounts.

The late change allows the 527 organizations, named because of the associated tax code, to donate to state political parties. Those respective parties can take in unlimited donations and give unlimited amounts to their candidates.

The bill initially drew sharp rebuke centered on the rights of immunocompromised people and their families. The version going to the governor answered that with a change in language, allowing people while in public to wear “medical or surgical grade masks” to prevent spreading illnesses. Lawmen can ask a person to remove it for identification purposes.

People wearing masks in public, and those blocking roads or emergency vehicles, are singled out in the proposal. Protests in the state about fossil fuels have led to road blockages, and university campuses – notably the Polk Place quad at Carolina – have been contentious areas linked to the war between Hamas and Israel.

State law involving masks dates back 71 years to activity by the Ku Klux Klan. When the COVID-19 era came, lawmakers agreed to a change that corresponded to recommendations of federal and state health officials led then by Health Secretary Mandy Cohen. She’s since left to be director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When first filed 15 months ago, the proposal only included language on criminalizing money laundering, and enhancing sentence when convictions involved a defendant “wearing a mask, hood, or other clothing device to conceal or attempt to conceal the defendant’s identity.” Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and the sides have fought since sparking protests and demonstrations.

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