Bill to prohibit protesters from covering their faces is killed
HELENA — A legislative committee Monday killed a bill that would have prohibited protesters from covering their faces.
House Bill 571, carried by Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, would have made it a crime for a person to partially or fully conceal their face to avoid being able to be identified during protests that become violent or get out of hand.
Eleven members of the House Judiciary Committee voted against the bill and eight voted for it.
Some law enforcement organizations spoke in support of the bill during a hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee last week, saying people who wear masks at protests tend to be the ones who cause violent behavior. Those who opposed the bill said it violated civil rights.
Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, said he was worried the bill would be used for racial profiling and that the legislation was written with protesters who are Native American and have protested issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in mind.
“I think the individuals who are out at those events, if they’re doing it peacefully, I think they automatically become a target and are going to be charged with an offense even if they are not doing anything wrong,” Morigeau said.
Usher said said the bill was not meant to allow for racial profiling and was targeted at those who are trying to hide their identity.
“I just feel that if you’re covered nobody’s going to be able to tell what race you are anyway,” Usher said. He also added that protests in North Dakota included people from all around the U.S.
“Based on what I heard most of the people who caused trouble were not from that general area so I just want to make it clear my intent was nowhere to be racially profiling, so I apologize if I offended anybody.”
Usher said he hoped officers would not abuse the bill if passed.
“I don’t understand what the big uproar is. We’re trying to take care of people.”
The bill is considered dead unless Usher attempts to blast the bill to the House floor for a vote by the 100 members of that body.