If a racist state senator gets his way, the pair in this photo would be committing an illegal act.
If a state senator gets his way, the pair in this photo would be committing an illegal act. Alex Garland

State Senator Jim Honeyford, who two years ago suggested in a legislative committee that "colored people" commit more crimes, has introduced a new piece of legislation that attempts to curb an element of protest commonly seen on May Day. Today, Honeyford proposed a bill that would prohibit wearing a mask, hood, or device "whereby any portion of the face is so covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer" in public places.

Honeyford's bill resembles other anti-mask legislation proposed in the wake of mass protests like Occupy Wall Street, Ferguson, and demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Other state legislatures considering anti-mask measures have cited these events—as well as the Malheur wildlife refuge occupation and the violent clashes as Berkeley—as rationale for such bills. Anti-mask laws have also been passed in states trying to limit the activity of the Ku Klux Klan.

Here's what Honeyford's bill says:

The legislature finds that a threat to the public safety and welfare exists due to recent actions by organized groups whose members wear masks while committing criminal acts. Under the guise of political speech, acts of vandalism and violence have occurred, which impact the health, safety, and welfare of citizens of the state. While the legislature applauds and affirms the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters, it has become necessary to protect the property and persons of its citizens and to aid law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of a small but dangerous group of individuals who conceal their identities while committing illegal acts under the guise of political protest.

It's not hard to guess at what Honeyford means when he talks about "a small but dangerous group of individuals" at political protests. That rhetoric reflects a lot of what we hear about black bloc anarchists, whose tactics my colleagues have written about here, and here, and here, and here.

But Honeyford's bill, at least as it's written, appears that it would prohibit face-concealing apparel for more than just black bloc protesters. While the first section states that the harm to society comes from people who conceal their identities while committing illegal acts, the second section bans masks and hoods on sidewalks and public spaces regardless of whether illegal acts are being committed.

Honeyford's bill makes exceptions for job uniforms, sports gear, civil defense drills, religious garments, and Halloween costumes—but doesn't include any blanket pass for people who wear face-concealing apparel that aren't otherwise breaking any laws. It seems as though cosplayers or these fashionistas could all be guilty of a gross misdemeanor in the State of Washington if Honeyford had his way.

We've reached out to Honeyford for clarification and will update if we hear back.

Update 3:29 p.m.: Elisabeth Smith, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, says that criminalizing protester conduct is unconstitutional.

“Wearing a mask in public is a form of symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment," Smith said in a statement. "The exemptions in the legislation, which include Halloween, theatrical productions, cold, and playing sports, show that the bill clearly is aimed at people engaged in protest."