News & OpinionWeekly News Roundup

5 Things to Know: Mask Bill Shelved but Still on Table

...and four more stories from May 19-25, 2024

mask mandate
Members of the NC House refused to concur with the state Senate in including a provision in a mask bill that would remove a pandemic-era masking exemption for health purposes. (AdobeStock)

Mask Bill Shelved but Still on Table

Lawmakers will need to revise House Bill 237, also titled the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” bill, after Republicans in the NC House refused to concur with the state Senate in including a provision that would remove a pandemic-era masking exemption for health purposes.

“Every person has the freedom to wear a mask to ensure their physical health and safety if they want to,” wrote Republican Rep. Erin Paré of Wake County on Twitter. “Removing the medical mask exemption provision from current state law has created confusion among the public.”

Paré continued, showing that she and other lawmakers still plan to pass the mask bill with the intent to criminalize protests and those who organize them. “HB 237 also enhances penalties for people who use a mask to conceal their identity while committing a crime, which is good and important,” she wrote. “The right thing to do here is to add back the deleted provisions regarding medical masking and give the public clarity on the issue.”

As it currently stands, HB 237 would classify willfully impeding traffic during a demonstration as a Class A1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a fine. Repeat offenses would be treated as a Class H felony, carrying up to three years in prison. The mask bill also threatens to hold organizers of street protests civilly liable for any injuries resulting from delays caused by obstructed emergency vehicles.

“This legislation is a thinly veiled attempt to suppress dissent in response to recent protests advocating for Palestinian human rights and against police brutality,” read a statement on the mask bill from the NAACP North Carolina State Conference earlier this month. “By criminalizing protest tactics used by movements such as Black Lives Matter and pro-Palestinian groups, this bill aims to stifle legitimate expressions of public outrage and calls for justice.

“We urge lawmakers to reject HB 237 and instead focus on addressing the root causes of the protests: systemic racism, police violence and social inequities,” the statement continued. “Protecting protest ensures that public spaces remain arenas for democratic expression, where communities can celebrate victories, mourn losses, and demand accountability from their leaders.”

City Council Votes on Budget Adjustments

Charlotte City Council met Monday afternoon to propose and vote on adjustments to the budget proposed by City Manager Marcus Jones earlier this month.

During the meeting, council voted 8-3 to make an attempt at cutting back on spending so as to shrink or repeal a proposed 1.5% property tax hike currently included in Jones’ budget. Though no specific cuts were named, District 6 rep Tariq Bokhari, who made the recommendation, said he will bring city staff a list of potential spending cuts before the budget straw vote meeting on May 30.

He urged his fellow council members to do the same, suggesting that decreasing the property tax hike would help council lobby the state legislature to allow the city to place a proposed sales tax hike on the local ballot. Council has been waiting for approval from the North Carolina General Assembly to put the sales tax increase on the ballot, first proposed in December 2020 to fund transportation needs.

Council members also proposed adding certain items to the proposed budget before straw votes next week, including increased police spending ($150,000 for active shooter kits and $597,500 for new bulletproof vests and ballistic shields); a $2 million increase in spending on bicycle infrastructure; a $1 million contribution to help build housing for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers; doubling how much money goes toward litter clean-up from $250,000 to $500,000; and additional funding for multiple nonprofits such as Block Love Charlotte and Hearts for the Invisible.

A one-time allocation of $100,000 to Charlotte Museum of History (CMH) was recommended, though that falls well short of what the museum has requested: an allocation of $625,000 and inclusion on the list of annually funded arts institutions by the city.

In a statement following Monday’s meeting, the museum’s CEO and President Terri L. White said CMH is the only major arts organization in the city not receiving annual funding.

“The museum has not received municipal funds for operating expenses in almost 20 years, and it did not receive municipal funds to help it survive through the COVID-19 pandemic,” White wrote in the statement, which is included a petition she has launched for residents to show their support. “Their survival through it all shows that they are not only a strong and necessary organization, but that they are also worthy of city support, of which they are currently being denied.”

Airport Workers Launch 24-Hour Strike

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) workers launched a 24-hour strike on Thursday to demand an end to poverty wages and respect on the job.

Striking workers and their allies held actions throughout the day to demand airline service providers commit to respecting, protecting and paying fair wages to airport service workers. The strike began with a picket rally at the arrivals area at CLT at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, with another picket beginning at the corner of Wilkinson Boulevard and North Josh Birmingham Parkway at 8 a.m., followed by a press conference at 1:30 p.m.

“Planes can’t take off without us, but I have to work three jobs so I can support my family,” said Lisoley Gutierrez, a cabin cleaner employed by ABM Industries who services American Airlines planes. “I leave early in the morning and don’t come back until after my kids are asleep. I’ve missed out on birthdays and family celebrations because I’m always working. We contribute to the huge profits of the airline industry; we should be paid fairly for our hard work.”

In May 2023, nearly 500 CLT airport service workers voted to form their union with SEIU Local 32BJ at Jetstream. They’re still fighting for a first contract as unionized workers. Many of the workers are paid as little as $14 an hour with few if any benefits.

“Doesn’t matter who signs our paychecks, these corporations earn billions of dollars off our backs,” said Shonda Barber, an ABM trash truck driver who services American Airlines. “We’re short staffed because the pay and benefits are not enough for what we do. We need to be paid what we’re worth so they can retain experienced workers like me. That’s a win-win situation for workers and for passengers.”

New County Commissioner Charged with DWI

Mecklenburg County Commissioner-elect Yvette Townsend-Ingram insists she was not driving at the time she was arrested and charged with a DWI in Gastonia on May 1, though police say they believe she was.

Yvette Townsend-Ingram.

Townsend-Ingram, who beat out longtime county commissioner Pat Cotham for the final at-large seat in the March primary, told WSOC’s Joe Bruno this week that she drank a bottle of wine while sitting in her car at the park where she was arrested, and had only turned the car on to use the air conditioner.

She said she was mourning the recent death of her brother and commiserating over the loss of her job at Johnson C. Smith University. The police on the other hand say Townsend-Ingram blew a .20 on her breathalyzer test, 2.5 times the legal limit, and was “very argumentative.” Townsend-Ingram is set to be sworn in to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners later this year.

Young Fan’s Mother Files Lawsuit Against LaMelo Ball

Tamaria McRae is suing LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets on behalf of her 11-year-old son after the two plaintiffs claim Ball ran over the boy’s foot while leaving a “Purple and Teal Day” event held at Spectrum Center last October.

McRae’s lawyer has said that the lawsuit is an effort to get Ball to pay the medical bills racked up by the family after the boy broke his foot in the incident. The lawyer added that the Hornets are named in the suit because they believe the team could have set up more safety measures near where players exit the arena.

The suit asks for more than $25,000 in compensation from Ball and the Hornets. On multiple occasions in the past, Ball has been filmed leaving the arena and blowing through a red light.

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