MINOT, N.D. — The executive committee of a rural legislative district is demanding that Gov. Doug Burgum order the withholding of public funds from any public or private organization which implements a mask or vaccine mandate.

"The North Dakota District 8 Executive Committee will be releasing the attached petition in response to the coordinated, institutional encroachment upon civil liberties permeating the body politic," an email announcing the initiative states. "As your neighbors, friends, compatriots, and fellow countrymen, we view the current course as wholly unacceptable, and not raising our collective voices in opposition is not optional."

"Apathy is authorization. Complacency is complicity," the email concludes.

Earlier this year, the Legislature overrode a veto from Burgum to put in place a ban on statewide mask mandates, but key to mustering the votes needed to pass House Bill 1323, introduced by Bastiat Caucus member Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, was an amendment exempting local governments from the ban. This has left political subdivisions such as school districts or municipalities free to implement mandates.

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Just yesterday, North Dakota State University announced a mask mandate for its classrooms.

Many organizations are also pushing toward vaccine enforcement. The Grand Forks County Commission, in addition to implementing a mask mandate, is allowing its human resources staff to survey county employees about their vaccination status. Hospitals in the region have been implementing vaccine mandates.

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NDGOP District 8 Chairman Josiah Geiger and his executive committee want these organizations to be denied taxpayer dollars. The petition they're sending to Burgum asks to "recall, rescind, and otherwise cease and desist payment of any State funding allocated or appropriated in the current fiscal year to any political subdivision, municipality, educational district, public or private institution who issues a masking or inoculation mandate as a condition of entry, employment, education, or receipt of services."

"Such funding is inclusive of direct transfer payments, Medicaid payments, grants, tax abatements, and any other such monies derived from the collection of taxes on the citizens of North Dakota," the petition continues before descending into a series of quotations from famous American leaders, including Alexander Hamilton, who was serving as an aide to George Washington when the revolutionary general ordered the first mass vaccination of American troops.

The sort of withholding of public funding that the District 8 Republicans are calling for is an initiative taken up by Republican leaders in other states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who recently tested positive for COVID-19, has found himself in a face-off with school districts in his state which are implementing mask mandates in defiance of his orders. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has issued similar orders against mask mandates, has been threatening fiscal reprisals against school districts that aren't complying.

Grand Forks public health officials (L-R) Sydney Anderson,  Kate Goldade, and Whitney Miller tear down a mobile vaccination clinic at the Home of Economy parking lot Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks public health officials (L-R) Sydney Anderson, Kate Goldade, and Whitney Miller tear down a mobile vaccination clinic at the Home of Economy parking lot Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki wasn't immediately available for comment on the petition.

North Dakota currently has the 12th lowest vaccination rate in the country, and the rate of vaccination has fallen off precipitously since vaccines for COVID-19 first became available.

In March, the state averaged 6,013 doses administered per day. In April that average was 3,980 per day. By May we were down to 1,492 per day, and June saw the daily average drop to 1,023.

July saw an average of 699 daily doses, but there are signs that the rate is picking up somewhat in August as school districts and college campuses ready for a return of students. The state has averaged 992 vaccine doses per day through Aug. 16.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.