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Lawmakers, Health Department react to veto override of anti-mask bill

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Rep. Jeff Hoverson says he was surprised to see his anti-mask bill had the votes to overcome the veto.

“Pleasant shock. I was pleasantly surprised,” Hoverson said.

The bill bans statewide elected officials and the state health officer from enacting mask mandates but allows cities, counties, schools and businesses to make their own requirements.

It gained traction over the course of the session, with demonstrations at the Capitol, and crowds showing up to the chamber for votes.

“It was an incredible journey. It was the roughest but the most fantastic one politically for me,” Hoverson said.

The Minot Representative says his views on the mandate are driven by personal freedom.

“Basic Republican 101: Individual liberty. I think people had too much liberty taken from them this past year,” Hoverson said.

Gov. Doug Burgum said in his veto message that the bill takes away an important measure in managing a public health crisis. Those at the Health Department, including Disease Control Director Kirby Kruger, say the same.

“If we do see surges in disease, I think it’s going to be important that we have all the tools available to us that we can use, and that includes masking,” Kruger said.

Though the virus’s spread in the state has slowed significantly since last November, cases have crept up the past few weeks, and Kruger says new variants are spreading.

“The United Kingdom Variant, the B117 variant, is about 50 percent more infectious than the virus that first emerged. The California variants are about 20 percent more infectious,” Kruger said.

Democratic Rep. Gretchen Dobervich voted against the bill, and she says the state isn’t out of the clear yet, and taking away the ability for a mandate could be risky.

“Our numbers are continuing to rise, we’ve doubled in hospitalizations in the last month,” Dobervich said. “This isn’t over yet, and without those emergency orders in place, without that mask mandate in place, the message to us is we’re out of this, it’s over, and we’re really not there yet.”

The bill received 66-27 votes in the house and 32-15 in the Senate.

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