Lawmakers to adjust Tennessee bill banning masks, hoods ‘with intent to conceal the person’s identity’

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- A proposed bill in Tennessee would make it a misdemeanor criminal offense to wear a mask or hood with an intent to conceal your identity. While the bill in its current form was withdrawn Wednesday, Representative Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) told News Channel 11 he’ll file a clarified version by February 5th.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) and Representative Hulsey, would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense, “of wearing a mask, hood, or device by which a portion of the person’s face is so hidden, concealed, or covered so as to intentionally conceal the identity of the person while on a public way, public property, or private property without the permission of the property owner or the occupier of the property to do so.”

The original bill did outline situations in which the above bill would NOT apply.

  • (1) Wear a traditional holiday costume on the occasion of the holiday;
  • (2) Lawfully engage in a trade, profession, occupation, or sporting activity where a mask, hood, or device is worn for the purpose of ensuring the physical safety of the wearer or others, or because of the nature of the trade, profession, occupation, or sporting activity;
  • (3) Wear a mask, hood, or device while engaged in a theatrical production, parade, or masquerade ball; or
  • (4) Wear a gas mask prescribed in emergency management drills or emergencies.

News Channel 11’s Kaylyn Kluck spoke with Representative Bud Hulsey over the phone Wednesday about the bill.

Hulsey said the bill was initially intended to target protesters and demonstrators who might commit crimes. However, legal counsel advised the bill should be written more broadly.

Hulsey added that the idea for this bill came from both local law enforcement agencies and from others across the state.

“Some of it came from my local department in Kingsport. But for the last two years, they’ve been having trouble across the state,” he said.

The original bill named several exceptions where masks and hoods would be allowed. This included holiday costumes, professions requiring masks, and theatrical productions. But Hulsey said the public was still confused.

“It doesn’t ban any clothing. But they put the word ‘hoodies’ in there which just lit everybody up,” he said. “Some people just scanned through it. Or they hear through word of mouth that there’s some bill trying to ban clothing or ban hoodies. And they get livid. And I don’t blame them. That’s insane.”

Sponsors withdrew the bill Wednesday. Now it will be re-written with Hulsey’s intent more clear. He told News Channel 11 he’ll file the new bill by February 5th.

“I’ve got to go back with legal and sit down and see if we can clear up some of the verbiage on it to end the confusion,” he said.

Andrew Gibbons, a public defender from Sullivan County, says the new draft needs to specify how police could prove someone’s intent to conceal.

“I would like to see more language in the bill that would set out specifics as to when it would be,” said Gibbons. “Are they engaged in a crime at the time their face is concealed? Are they involved in a riot or something along that nature?”

Kingsport already has a city ordinance banning mask wearing on public properties in many cases.

Hulsey did not say what specific law enforcement agencies from the Kingsport area requested the bill. The Kingsport Police Department, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, and Sullivan County District Attorney told News Channel 11 they weren’t aware of anyone speaking with Hulsey about the bill.

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