North Dakota Senate passes ban on state mask mandates; bill goes back to House
MINOT, N.D. – North Dakota’s Senate on Wednesday approved a ban on state-issued mask mandates.
House Bill 1323, brought by Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, had passed the House 50-44. The Senate Political Subdivisions Committee gave the bill a 6-1 “do not pass” recommendation. Chairman Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, had called the bill banning state and local mask mandates “a knee-jerk reaction” to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Jessica Bell, R-Beulah, introduced a floor amendment to disallow state elected officials and the state health officer from issuing a mask mandate. Cities, counties and school boards and businesses would be able to do so. She called the amendment a “compromise.”
“I am hoping that we can protect both our freedoms and our safety with these amendments,” Bell said.
The Senate approved the amendments 37-10 and passed the amended bill 30-17. The bill goes back to the House for concurrence.
Bill supporters, who rallied Monday at the Capitol, said government officials shouldn’t be able to require masks, calling it a personal freedom issue. Opponents said mask mandates are effective and might be useful or necessary in the future.
Sen. Doug Larsen, R-Mandan, said, “I believe this is an issue that is best handled at the individual level; however, as amended, if it is going to be government, I believe it should be at its lowest level for this.”
Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, a dentist who also has studied immunology, said the pandemic won’t be the last one. He voted against the bill.
“There will be times in the future when we will deal with events that have more severe death rates than we’ve seen with this one,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who presides over the Senate, gaveled down balcony visitors several times after they applauded senators’ supporting comments.
“Please keep silence. Please keep silence. Let the senators do their business,” Sanford said.
Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke imposed a statewide mask mandate last November amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases that taxed hospitals and funeral homes. The order, which Gov. Doug Burgum supported, expired in January.
Active cases of the virus had reached more than 10,000 late last year, but they fell sharply in the period of the mask mandate. Many local governments around the state also implemented mask requirements last fall. Before the statewide mandate, the governor for months implored residents to wear face masks out of personal responsibility.