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North Dakota bill to ban state-issued mask mandates moves to governor's desk

The House of Representatives voted 67-24 on Monday, April 12, to pass House Bill 1323, agreeing with Senate amendments that stripped bans on locally issued mask requirements from the proposal. The bill will go to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, whose spokesman declined to comment on the legislation.

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Demonstrators gathered outside the North Dakota Capitol in support of a proposal to ban mask mandates on April 5, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature have passed a bill that would bar state officials from issuing mask mandates in the future.

The House of Representatives voted 67-24 on Monday, April 12, to pass House Bill 1323 , agreeing with Senate amendments that stripped bans on locally issued mask requirements from the proposal. The bill will go to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, whose spokesman declined to comment on the legislation.

Elected officials in a few other states, including Arizona and Idaho, have considered banning mask mandates in some form, but North Dakota lawmakers could be the first to pass a sweeping prohibition on state-ordered mask requirements.

Bill supporters in the House said the Senate changes were a good compromise that allowed for "local control" on the mask issue but took authority away from the governor and state health officer.

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The North Dakota House of Representatives passed House Bill 1323 on Monday, April 12, 2021. Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature

The Legislature's pushback on compulsory mask-wearing comes several months after Burgum's administration imposed a statewide face covering mandate amid the nation's most severe COVID-19 outbreak. A handful of cities and counties, including Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck, independently required mask use in public prior to the state mandate, which expired in January.

If Burgum vetoes the bill, a two-thirds majority would be needed in each chamber to override it. The House's margin of passage would satisfy that threshold, but the bill would have to pick up at least two new supporters in the Senate , which approved the bill more narrowly.

The bill has drawn support from a vocal group of residents who oppose mask requirements. Protesters took to the Capitol steps last week to drum up support for the legislation, which was seen as a long shot to get through the upper chamber.

Opponents say the bill could tie the hands of state leaders during future pandemics when masks may be an even more effective disease prevention measure.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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