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Questions arise about how to enforce Gov. Burgum's order to close on-site operations at bars and restaurant

Local law enforcement and public health authorities are directed to monitor and enforce an executive order Gov. Walz issued to close down on-site gatherings at Minnesota bars and restaurants. It is unclear what agency is responsible for enforcing a similar order in North Dakota. Forum file photo

FARGO — When North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum closed down on-site gatherings at the state's bars and restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic, his executive order did not make clear what kinds of penalties violators might incur or how the order would be enforced.

So far, there have been no complaints locally.

The same is true on the Minnesota side of the Red River, though Gov. Tim Walz' order is much more specific about how that state's order is enforced and what kinds of penalties violators can expect.

“Under the chapter of state law dealing with emergency services (NDCC 37-17.1), ‘Any person who willfully violates any provision of an executive order or proclamation issued by the governor pursuant to this chapter is guilty of an infraction,” said Burgum’s Communications Director Mike Nowatzki. “An infraction is punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000. (NDCC 12.1-32-01 (7)). Enforcement would be by local authorities if it’s a city or county building, or the ND Highway Patrol or local authorities if it’s a state building.”


The response doesn’t address private businesses, those most impacted by the executive order, who have seen layoffs and uncertainty about their futures.

While initially responsive, emails and calls sent to Burgum's office since Monday, March 23, have gone unreturned.

The matter isn’t clear to North Dakota law enforcement, either.

“I was advised we have not had any directive from the Governor’s Office to do compliance checks,” said Jessica Schindeldecker, Fargo Police Department’s crime prevention and public information officer, “And as far as I and the safety officer is aware, we haven’t had any complaints of violations.”

It’s largely the same answer from Fargo Cass Public Health, who, according to officials, aren’t doing any kind of enforcement, but aren’t hearing any complaints either. West Fargo police officials said the same.

Right now, it’s unclear who violations would be reported to.

Across the state line, it’s a different matter altogether.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s March 18 executive order 20-04 is much more clear and specific.


“Any person who willfully violates such an order or rule is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days,” according to executive order 20-04.

It goes on to say, “Local law enforcement and public health authorities are directed to monitor and enforce this Executive Order in accordance with the law.”

“We have not had any issues regarding this order reported to us,” Moorhead Police Capt. Deric Swenson said. “We are currently not conducting any type of compliance checks. We would look into this further if we received a complaint or with something suspicious, such as an unordinary amount of vehicles parked around the establishment, etc.”

Clay County public health officials also confirmed they’ve had no complaints come through their offices.

Lisa Bode, Moorhead governmental affairs director, said enforcement will continue to be a coordinated effort between Minnesota local law enforcement and the public health department, and she said violations should be reported to them.

“We’ve been really fortunate,” Bode said. “Everyone has taken this really, really, seriously."

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