Lesser-known Virginia mask ban returns July 1, Governor Northam expects residents won’t face charges

Virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam listens as he prepares to speak to a group of volunteers to distribute supplies at health equity community event Tuesday May 12, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A lesser-known Virginia law banning face masks in order to conceal someone’s identity returns next month, prompting Gov. Northam to clarify how it may be enforced with COVID-19 still present.

Paused during the pandemic, the law was written with the intent to deter potential criminals from concealing their face and it is set to once again be effective when Virginia’s state of emergency ends June 30. 2021.

The law is how a woman faced a felony charge after allegedly wearing a bandana during the January 2020 Second Amendment rally outside the state capitol — the charge was later dropped.

On the law’s return, Gov. Northam said, “I will communicate with our law enforcement. I think it will be quite clear that nobody will be arrested because of wearing masks, especially for medical reasons.”

However, 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone says a governor’s recommendation is not binding, like the law.

“That’s still giving a lot of discretion to law-enforcement officers and prosecutors. They could certainly charge it, and it could go through the process and the person might ultimately be acquitted. But, the fact of the matter is, that’s a big strain on a person’s life just to have to go through that process,” Stone said.

It’s this confusion that several people in Richmond told 8News why the law needs tweaking; Chris Miller included.

“If you’re banned to wear a mask, but you’re recommended to wear a mask for safety purposes, it seems like it shouldn’t be in place at all,” he said.

In the meantime, Gov. Northam says he wants the General Assembly to address the matter during the upcoming session to clear the air.

“They’ll [state lawmakers] be coming back to Richmond for a special session to deal with the [American] Rescue Plan money, and what we intend to do is to codify the mask situation so it’s not confusing to Virginians.”

Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Gov. Northam, added that Virginians should follow CDC guidance on masks, which encourages anyone who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear one.

The General Assembly could potentially tweak the law during a special session later this summer.

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