Nassau Legis. Mazi Pilip, at a press conference in Queens...

Nassau Legis. Mazi Pilip, at a press conference in Queens early this year, has sponsored a bill that would ban face masks and coverings for nefarious reasons in public.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Wearing a face mask or covering in public in Nassau County to conceal one’s identity could result in a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $1,000, according to a new bill majority Republican legislators have proposed.

The bill, filed with the county clerk's office and shared with Newsday in advance of committee meetings Monday, is likely to gain approval as Republicans hold a 12-7 majority on the Nassau Legislature. If the bill passes, the county would join a growing number of municipalities nationwide with laws against public masking aimed at activists who conceal their faces at protests.

The proposal specifically targets people who wear facial coverings to intentionally conceal their identity and would exempt people who wear masks for health, safety, "religious or cultural purposes, or for the peaceful celebration of a holiday or similar religious or cultural event for which masks or facial coverings are customarily worn," according to the bill's language. 

The measure comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, announced last month she was considering a similar ban on face masks in the New York City subway system, citing recent incidents of antisemitic harassment. Hochul said she's in talks with state lawmakers to consider a ban.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Wearing a face mask or covering in public in Nassau County to conceal one’s identity could result in a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $1,000, according to a new bill majority Republican legislators have proposed.
  • The bill, filed with the county clerk's office in advance of committee meetings Monday, is likely to gain approval as Republicans hold a 12-7 majority on the Nassau Legislature. 
  • The proposal specifically targets people who wear facial coverings to conceal their identity and would exempt people who wear masks for health, safety, "religious or cultural purposes, or for the peaceful celebration of a holiday or similar religious or cultural event for which masks or facial coverings are customarily worn," according to the bill's language. 

Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip (R-Great Neck), the lead sponsor of the bill, declined to comment this week. The proposal is co-sponsored by each member of the county's Republican caucus, according to the filing. Legislators will convene Monday at 1 p.m. in the legislative chambers in Mineola. 

Nassau Legislature Presiding Officer Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said the proposed county law "aims to tackle the rising issue of facial coverings being worn to hide criminal activity and the spread of menacing behavior."

“This is a public safety issue and we must take the lead to protect our citizens from the hate and violence stemming from this activity,” Kopel said in a statement Wednesday. 

The bill goes on to say: "Any person that violates any provision of this law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or imprisonment of not more than one year, or both." 

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, declined to comment on whether he supported the legislative proposal.  

Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) generally supported the proposal but had reservations on how the county would enforce such a law and whether it would penalize residents who wear masks for legitimate reasons.

"While I understand the intent behind the proposed legislation, especially in light of concerns about incidents like the Jan. 6 insurrection, there are still many unanswered questions," DeRiggi-Whitton said.

"For example, what provisions are there for residents who wear face masks during the blisteringly cold winter months? This legislation needs thorough examination to ensure it considers all practical scenarios, including enforcement, and does not inadvertently penalize residents for legitimate reasons." 

Hochul sparked debate among civil liberties groups who say it could bring on legal challenges if it appears to be aimed a prohibiting the practice of masking for a specific group. 

Among the incidents prompting Hochul's support of a ban on subways was one in which some protesters wearing traditional Palestinian scarves, known as keffiyehs, over their faces were seen on video asking whether any passengers aboard a crowded subway were Zionists, telling them: “This is your chance to get out.”

When asked about the bill, Tabitha Alessi, a 35-year-old Bloomingdale's employee living in Woodbury, said there are "bigger fish to fry than worrying about people with masks." 

She also questioned how this bill would be enforced, adding, "Are they just gonna go up to people and ask, 'Why are you wearing a mask?' " 

JoAnn Burke, 55, lives on Long Beach Road and sells fragrances at Macy's. Her job engaging with customers makes her extra alert to the threat of face coverings that hide one's identity.

For that reason, she supports the bill.

"If something happens, how would we recognize who did it?" she said.

She empathizes with those who need to wear masks for medical reasons but think the bill is worth passing regardless of any unintended impacts.

"I support it, but if somebody was sick, it's different," she said.

With Jacqueline Cole

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