North Dakota’s Senate voted Wednesday to prevent statewide mask mandates from ever happening again. However, in order to become law, House Bill 1323 would need to be again approved by the House, and then signed by the very person whose power it restricts: the governor.
“As horrible as it is, Mr. President, this disease that we have, this China virus is being used as a political weapon, and continues to be used as a political weapon,” Sen. Janne Myrdal said.
The Senate voted 30-17 to prohibit statewide mask mandates after an amendment was passed to still allow for cities, counties, school boards and businesses to make their own decisions.
“Compromise, Mr. President. It’s a necessary tool in so many different aspects of life,” Sen. Jessica Bell said, after proposing the amendment.
The chamber’s gallery was filled with a crowd supporting the bill, who cheered after senators spoke in favor of it. Many arguments centered on personal freedom.
“I believe good people, when they’re educated and informed will make good decisions,” Sen. Terry Wanzek said.
“I guess when I came to this nation and took an oath to this constitution, I knew that liberty always trumps safety,” Myrdal said.
But others were concerned that taking the mandate option off the table could put the state in a risky spot if an even deadlier virus were to arrive.
“I think in our society sometimes we forget that we should care for others,” Sen. Brad Bekkedahl said.
The legislation comes in light of the State Health Officer’s mandate from November through January meant to slow the spread. Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch says that mandate helped.
“After implementation by the governor across the board, we really did see a decrease in overall active cases. Hospitalizations were reduced. Deaths were reduced per month. It really showed to have an impact when everyone was participating,” Moch said.
The bill, which was amended on the floor, will head back to the House, and after that to Gov. Doug Burgum’s desk for a signature or veto.
Even if he does veto it, the legislature could still override that veto with a two-thirds vote. The governor’s office says he generally does not comment on pending legislation.