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5 things to know today: Mask mandate, LSS closes, Capitol security, Oil revenue, Legal tender

A rundown of some of the best stories found on Inforum.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum holds a COVID-19 news conference on Oct. 23 in Bismarck. Kyle Martin / The Forum

1. North Dakota's statewide mask mandate will expire next week, Burgum says

North Dakota's statewide mask mandate will expire at 8 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 18, as COVID-19 cases continue to drop in the state..

Medical professionals have widely credited North Dakota's mask mandate with reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the state, but Gov. Doug Burgum said on Friday, Jan. 15, he believes "personal responsibility" can carry North Dakota through the rest of the pandemic.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

2. Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota to close its doors; 283 jobs will be affected

Lutheran Social Services is seen Friday, Jan. 15, at 3911 20th St. S., Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor


Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota CEO and President Bob Otterson told employees in a company-wide video meeting Friday, Jan. 15, that the 102-year-old agency will be closing its doors.

In an emotional exchange, Otterson — who has only been in the position for 45 days — told employees that, due to the heavy drain on resources caused by LSSND's housing department, the agency could no longer survive. Otterson said the ongoing financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also compounded the agency's financial difficulties.

The agency's annual budget for Fiscal Year 2021 is about $19 million, Otterson said. He told The Forum that one projection put the potential shortfall for LSS at nearly $3 million for the fiscal year.

Read more

3. State leaders say they'll end violent demonstrations at Minnesota Capitol: 'We will stop you'

A security fence is in place around the Minnesota State Capitol building. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. The fence was installed during the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Minnesota law enforcement agencies said they haven't found "credible threats" of violence at the state Capitol heading into a weekend of planned protests but have called on groups around the state to prepare for altercations ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Friday, Jan. 15, said that despite earlier reports about the state Capitol becoming a target of potential far-right violence, state and federal officials had not found credible threats in recent days.


With two events planned for the Capitol complex over the weekend, Harrington said the state would maintain a strong law enforcement presence at the complex and elsewhere in the event that rallies or other gatherings break the peace. His department, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, State Patrol, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and others, have prepared for possible unrest through the end of the month tied to false claims that the presidential election was invalid.

Read more from Forum News Service's Dana Ferguson

4. With oil revenue down, North Dakota approves budget forecast as legislators hope for 2022 production boost

The chamber of the North Dakota House of Representatives is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The North Dakota Legislature approved a budget plan Friday, Jan. 15, that will govern the first half of its ongoing session, accounting for a substantial, pandemic-induced shortfall in oil tax revenue that has forced lawmakers to consider belt-tightening measures for the years ahead.

The Legislature has historically relied heavily on oil and gas taxes as a central driver of the state's revenue, but plummeting oil demand over the past year left lawmakers with a substantially smaller pool to work with.

The new budget forecast, which was approved by both the state's House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Friday, includes multiple large fiscal buckets typically filled by the oil industry that are empty for now for this biennium and the next.

Read more From The Forum's Adam Willis


5. Bill would prohibit North Dakota businesses from turning down cash

The chamber of the North Dakota House of Representatives is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has rallied behind a bill that would bar businesses in North Dakota from refusing cash payments.

House Bill 1299 would require businesses to take cash or face fines of $250 for a first offense and $500 for any repeat offenses. The legislation does not apply to online-only businesses and makes an exception to allow businesses to turn down large bills. The proposal also prohibits businesses from charging a higher price for an item bought with cash.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, said his proposal aims to ensure that all residents have equal access to the state's economy. The West Fargo Republican notes that some North Dakotans, especially those with lower incomes and the elderly, don't use credit cards or bank accounts. If more businesses in the state move toward a cashless model, Koppelman said he worries they could be left without the means to pay for necessary goods and services.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

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