By Mira Soni
Washington State Senator Jim Honeyford (R) introduced legislation into the state senate this Monday that would make it illegal to wear masks or hoods in public places. The bill, SB 5941, has a myriad of exceptions–people would be allowed to wear masks or hoods for religious reasons, holiday costumes, jobs, theatrical productions, masquerade balls or mardi gras celebrations, civil defense drills or emergencies, for a sport, or if the person is under the age of sixteen.
In an interview with the Seattle Times, Elisabeth Smith, Director of the ACLU of Washington, argues that the lengthy list of exemptions prove that the bill targets political protesters.
“The First Amendment actually protects people’s right to wear a mask in public” at demonstrations, said Smith, a legislative director for the organization.
“It’s clear that the impetus is to criminalize protest behavior,” Smith added.
Honeyford said the impetus for his bill was the increase in violent protests in Washington’s major cities this year. May Day protests in Olympia resulted in over $50,000 damages to local businesses.
But Honeyford’s bill has a long trek ahead of it. The senate is currently deciding the state’s two-year budget in a special session, and are unlikely to divert their attention to non-budget related legislation. Democrats in the Senate, as well as the ACLU, have voiced their opposal to the bill.
According to the Seattle Times, a second special session will convene to discuss the future of the bill.