Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

North Carolina governor vetoes bill limiting face masks, loosening campaign finance rules

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill started as an anti-mask measure but evolved into one that would loosen campaign financing law — but Republicans, who hold a legislature supermajority, are expected to pass the measure regardless.

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a controversial bill Friday that would have both imposed restrictions on mask-wearing and loosened campaign financing restrictions on the Republican party.

"This legislation creates a gaping loophole for secret, unlimited campaign money in the middle of an election year,” Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“While voters are kept in the dark, this scheme allows anonymous out-of-state billionaires to flood North Carolina with campaign contributions to rescue extreme right-wing candidates that Republicans now fear will lose. The legislation also removes protections and threatens criminal charges for people who want to protect their health by wearing a mask."

However, Republicans hold a supermajority in the General Assembly and have the numbers to override Cooper’s veto and pass the bill into law.

Republican lawmakers have said that they plan to take up Cooper’s vetoes next week, which may be the last week the legislature meets before taking a recess. They have been unable to come to a compromise over changes to the budget, and Speaker Tim Moore said that it is likely that the legislature will recess in July before returning later in the year to wrap up the short session.

Republicans say their change to campaign financing law would even the playing field in the upcoming election. 

The changes would allow the Republican party to move money more easily and use funds from a super PAC, which can raise unlimited money, to fund state campaigns. Republicans' campaign spending in North Carolina has been limited because the party lacks a regular political action committee, and has had to move money from its super PAC to the state party. 

Democrats have been able to bring in funding from outside the state because they have a traditional PAC, which they can use to move money from the super PAC to the state party. The difference in the two structures has made it easier for Democrats to outspend Republicans in campaigns. 

The bill would remove reporting conditions that currently limit federal political action committees and require them to file with the state board. They would also have to regularly submit contribution reports. 

“There’s no dark money here,” Republican Representative Grey Mills said in a House rules committee meeting. “We’re not allowed to accept any money that is not documented.” 

House Bill 237 originally concerned face masks, before Republicans decided to include changes to campaign provisions at the end. 

When it was first proposed it removed the exemption for medical mask wearing, which would have made it illegal to wear a mask in public. North Carolina has limited public mask wearing since 1953, not allowing adults to cover their face to disguise their identity, and an exemption was only introduced during Covid-19.

Lawmakers have raised concerns over pro-Palestinian protesters using masks, scarves and keffiyehs to disguise themselves while blocking roads and highways. The bill targets those who interrupt traffic and participate in sit-ins, making it a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for a second.

It would also raise the degree of severity for sentencing if a criminal is wearing a mask while they commit a crime. 

Republicans loosened the masking restriction after public outcry. The final version presented to Cooper included an exemption for medical and surgical masks to be worn “for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease.” 

Democrats argued on the House floor that many people wear masks for other health reasons, such as air quality or pollen, but Republicans have contended that arrests won’t be made just for mask wearing, as they weren’t before the pandemic. 

“You're not going to be criminally charged for wearing that mask. Nothing in here can do that,” Republican Representative John Torbett said.  “However some people have spun this to the point we've got a lot of people unnecessarily concerned.”

Follow @SKHaulenbeek
Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.