PHOENIX – Thinking of wearing a Trump mask to a political demonstration?
A chicken suit to a protest?
Or even fake nose and glasses to a public event?
A proposed new law could send you to prison for a year — and a dozen times longer if you or someone else at the event was involved in property damage.
Legislation crafted by Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, would make it a felony to wear any sort of disguise to evade recognition or identification in the commission of any public offense.
But HB 2007 will go even further. Masks and costumes also would be illegal at civil protests, political events or even any “public event.”
The only exceptions would be for those wearing a disguise “for a business-related purpose” or anywhere “a disguise may generally be viewed as part of acceptable attire.”
Lawrence said he began crafting the legislation after TV news reports this past summer.
“We’ve seen masked, hooded people breaking windows, hitting people, fighting with police,” he said.
The first-term lawmaker acknowledged that has not occurred in Arizona, saying only there have been threats.
“This legislation says those threats, if carried out, have penalties,” Lawrence said.
But Will Gaona, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said the legislation as crafted is not designed to protect the public but instead chill the First Amendment rights of those who protest.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the ‘disguise’ that a person may wear, that disguise itself may be expressive,” he said.
“Imagine a person wearing some kind of Donald Trump costume to a protest,” Gaona said. And on the other side of the political spectrum, he said someone dressed up in white wigs and colonial garb at a Tea Party event could be considered in partial disguise.
Lawrence insists that’s not the kind of thing his proposal is designed to stop.
“That type of disguise would not be the same as Antifa and others who wear masks and hoods to hide their identity,” he said, referring to the self-named anti-fascist movement. So, for example, he said it would be “perfectly acceptable” if someone protesting his views or his legislation shows up at a rally wearing a chicken suit.
Anyway, Lawrence said he believes his measure has an escape clause of sorts to prevent prosecution of those who have no ill intent: It allows a police officer to detain someone wearing a disguise to verify that person’s identity “and to determine if the person has committed a public offense.”