It’s time for the people of North Dakota to rise up and take action against some horrific actions by the North Dakota Legislature. North Dakotans should refer the frightening ban on statewide mask mandates, and the appalling anti-academic freedom bill.

Referring puts a law on hold until there’s a statewide election on it. The next statewide election is in June of next year. Unfortunately, referring those bills is a tall order. In a little more than two months, valid signatures of at least 15,582 state voters would have to be turned in. If that’s too rushed, then people who believe in science, good public health, and academic integrity should work on initiated measures that would change these obscene laws. They would have a year to get those signatures.

The Legislature’s decision to ban statewide mask mandates is dangerous and idiotic. Perhaps the legislators forgot that for almost two months, North Dakota was the world’s epicenter and death capital of the pandemic. Then came Gov. Burgum’s statewide mask mandate, which was a tremendous success. It saved hundreds of lives and prevented thousands of infections. We might need that effective option again for another health crisis.

The sad part is, the legislators think they know more than the CDC and Dr. Fauci. The reality is, they know less than Doctors Howard, Fine and Howard.

By passing the terrible anti-academic freedom bill, anti-abortion legislators have foolishly and hypocritically killed a successful North Dakota State University program that prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions. However, because the program is connected to Planned Parenthood, it had to go.

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Moreover, it’s possible the Legislature will override Burgum’s partial veto of this bill, which would mean stripping state universities of millions of dollars and putting faculty members in jail, if they dare to partner with groups that support legalized abortion.

The scary thing is where this could lead. Will legislators order universities to stay away from organizations that promote sensible gun control or LGBTQ rights? Certainly, this government overreach will make it harder to get other grants, lead to students and faculty members leaving state universities, and scare many others from coming here. Political inference in our classrooms is a dangerous precedent, and an ugly look for this state.


None of this should come as a surprise. The Legislature has been taken over by zealots, led by Morality Sheriff Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg. The Legislature’s job should be to enhance the lives of North Dakota citizens. Instead, it sadly passed bills to rescind women’s rights, force religion, ban transgender athletes, ban academic freedom and ban effective measures during a health crisis. Instead, it defeated bills to help terminally ill patients, diabetic patients, victims of child sexual abuse, driver safety, minimum wage earners, and families dealing with a severe illness or new child.

More than 1,500 North Dakotans have died from COVID-19, yet The Legislature shamefully acted like transgender teenagers are more of a threat to us than the coronavirus. Meantime, I’m convinced North Dakotans would overwhelmingly vote to allow mask mandates and academic freedom.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.