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ND Senate passes anti-mask bill

Senate keeps anti-mask bill alive

Submitted Photo North Dakotans supporting House Bill 1323 gather outside the North Dakota Capitol Monday. Supporters estimated about 300 people participated, holding signs that included, “Breathe Free North Dakota,” “Faith over Fear,” “Face Freedom.” Speakers included Tara Dukart From Health Freedom North Dakota, Amber Vibeto with North Dakota Conservative Advocates, grassroots organizer Kolette Kramer, David Watermann from realcovidfacts.org and bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot.

The North Dakota Senate voted 30-17 Wednesday to end government mask mandates while reserving the right of local governments and schools to require face coverings.

House Bill 1323, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, had passed the House 50-44. It goes back for House action on the amendment, added on the Senate floor, to give employers, local governments and schools the ability to require mask use in thier jurisdictions.

Legislators were heavily lobbied on both sides of the bill.

Sen. Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake, who presented the committee’s 6-1 recommendation to kill the bill, listed diseases with much higher death rates than COVID-19 and questioned whether the state wants the mask option off the table in any future epidemic.

He said the governor issued a mask mandate last fall after COVID-19 patients filled up the state’s hospitals and most medical professionals were asking for help.

Submitted Photo Participants rallying to support a prohibition on government mask mandates stand outside the state Capitol Monday.

“The executive branch needs to make decisions about the public’s good,” he said. “Decisions were made. Sometimes they might be wrong but, Mr. President, somebody has to govern.”

Senate President and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford banged his gavel a few times to halt interruptions created by chamber gallery applause following arguments made by senators on either side of the issue.

Republican Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, a Williston dentist, said he wears a mask to protect others.

“Nobody can tell me that masks don’t help,” he said. “Sometimes in our society, we forget that we should care for others.”

Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, said the debate isn’t about whether masks work but whether common good should infringe on individual freedom. He suggested infringing on individual freedom isn’t necessary for people to do the right thing.

“I believe good people, when they are educated and informed, will make good decisions,” he said.

“Liberty always trumps safety, at least for North Dakota and its history,” said Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, a supporter of HB 1323. “I don’t think anybody that is against the mask mandate wants anyone to get sick or die. I think it’s just the reality of we don’t want to be bound by political powers to deal with medical issues in our lives.”

Sen. Jessica Bell, R-Beulah, offered the amendment to limit the prohibition to statewide officials and state health officer, calling the move a compromise to “help strike a balance between freedom and safety.”

The amendment passed 37-10 on a verification vote, in which the electronic voting board remains dark and individual votes are secret.

Sens. David Hogue and bill co-sponsor Oley Larsen, both R-Minot, voted for bill passage. Sens. Karen Krebsbach and Randy Burckhard, both R-Minot, voted against.

In the previous House vote, all Minot legislators supported HB 1323.

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