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Burlington City Council to review mask wearing law - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington City Council to review mask wearing law

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Since the 1960s, Vermont's largest city has banned people from wearing masks or anything covering their faces. Though rarely enforced, several groups say it's time for a change. One group in particular says these rules single them out.

Most days they introduce themselves as Jessica and Jonathan Owens; other days they're known as Azhlon and Rally. They're part of a group of Vermont-based artists and cartoonists that call themselves Furries. They dress up in animal costumes for entertainment purposes, but according to a Burlington law they are not able to suit up in the city.

"We could not walk down a public street in a mask. We can walk out naked. That is a law. We can walk out naked but we cannot walk out wearing a mask," said Jessica.

The law states that no person over 21 of any association or organization can appear, congregate, march, parade or hold any meeting in the city wearing a mask, hood, or device for covering their face. The Owens and their fellow Furries say that violates freedom of expression.

"The denial of our ability to wear our suits goes against our lifestyle and our artistic interpretation. And it goes against our First Amendment right to do so," said Jessica.

They took this right to City Council who was working on redrafting the law after receiving complaints from other groups. On Tuesday, members of Burlington's ordinance committee heard from Jessica, other Furries and a representative from American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont who addressed why they want the law changed. 

City councilors agree. They've reworked the law to make sure the people behind those masks aren't trying cause any trouble. 

"The new language that's proposed really talks about just prohibiting masks in the context of committing a crime," said Max Tracy, city councilor. 

City attorney Eileen Blackwood said she spoke with Burlington's police chief, who's on board with the new version of the mask law, as long as police have the ability to tell a person they must reveal themselves. 

"His real concern is to say that folks, where they observe folks and they are looking that they believe that they are using the mask for one of these criminal purposes. That's what he wants. He wants the tool to be able to say to folks, look you can't wear the mask," said Blackwood. 

Owens says getting this far is a win for the Furries.

"It's definitely a relief," said Jessica. 

The city's ordinance committee has passed on the new draft to the City Council, which will now look at the new version and choose whether or not to adopt it. Council members Tuesday night said Burlington could see lawful mask wearing as early as this spring.

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