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Arizona bill that would ban masks at protests passes House committee

Protesters raise their hands after Phoenix police used tear gas outside the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. Protests were held against President Trump as he hosted a rally inside the convention center. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — An Arizona bill that would ban masks at protests and other public events was passed by a House committee on Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to pass HB 2007, which would make it a felony to wear a mask while committing a crime, protesting or attending a political or public event.

However, the bill would allow people to wear disguises for business purposes or at an event where they would be expected, such as a fall festival around Halloween time.

“In Arizona, we will not tolerate masks and hoods being worn by people while they commit a crime,” the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale), said in a release.

“This bill doesn’t infringe on the First Amendment rights of anyone, but rather holds those accountable who are committing a crime while wearing a mask or hood to disguise their identity.”

Lawrence introduced the bill after an August protest at President Donald Trump’s rally turned ugly in downtown Phoenix when officers used tear gas and pepper balls to disperse crowds.

Related: What happened during Phoenix protest of Trump rally

At the time, Lawrence said masked people at protests have shown a tendency to defy police orders.

Antifa was wearing masks, hoods and throwing things at police officers,” he said.

The state lawmaker was not just concerned about Antifa, however. He said he doesn’t want people supporting hate groups to be unidentifiable.

“The Ku Klux Klan has appeared at some of these demonstrations, cheering on conservatives,” he said. “I don’t want them wearing hoods, either.”

Lawrence said he supported the right to protest. He doesn’t, however, feel they should be allowed to hide their face when committing criminal acts or supporting hate groups.

“I believe that all of us have a right to express the way we feel,” he said. “I do not believe we have the right to express violently the way we feel.”

Editor’s note: Lawrence was a longtime host on KTAR News 92.3 FM.

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