Appointed versus elected: Lawmakers debate making State Health Officer elected position

Local News

A government position that you may not have heard of before the pandemic has taken center stage over the past few months. Now — lawmakers want to curb the powers of the State Health Officer, by making it an elected position.

Currently, North Dakota law says the governor “shall appoint” someone to fill that spot. The State Health Officer most recently has played a role in implementing a mask mandate and other pandemic mitigation measures that have been heavily criticized by citizens and legislators alike.

Bill supporters argue the public should have a say in who fills a role that the pandemic has proven holds a significant amount of power. Those opposed to the bill say it would change the role of medical expert to politician, to the detriment of public health.

“The governor requests that all his cabinet do what they believe in their professional opinions is correct for their portion of state government. If it’s the State Health Officer, he wants recommendations that will be 100 percent correct for the safety, well-being and health of the citizens of North Dakota,” Gov. Doug Burgum’s Chief of Staff Jace Beehler said.

The bill was not yet voted on by committee.

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