With a 30-17 vote, the North Dakota Senate passed the bill to prohibit mask mandates by statewide elected officials or the state health official.
House Bill 1323, as of Thursday, April 8, has returned back to the North Dakota House of Representatives. The bill, which initially prohibited mask mandates by the state, political subdivisions or elected officials, passed the House with a 50-44 vote in February.
“A statewide elected official or the state health officer may not mandate an individual in this state use a face mask, face shield, or other face covering,” the amended bill states.
Amendments were made Wednesday, April 7 on the Senate floor, according to legislative records. HB 1323, to date, has passed in both the North Dakota House and Senate despite receiving do not pass recommendations by both legislative bodies’ political subdivisions committees.
“I was the only person in the committee that voted yes on ending the mask mandates,” said state Sen. Jason Heitkamp, R-District 26. “It was a wonderful sight to see all the people that came out and filled the balconies on both sides of the Capitol.”
Heitkamp is one of two District 26 legislators who is a member of a political subdivisions committee. State Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-District 26, is a member of the House committee.
“We had one of our committee members flip his vote (Wednesday),” Heitkamp said. “My feeling is, it’s not about us all the time. The people came, they voiced their opinions and it was awesome.”
According to the Senate Daily Journal, three members of the seven-member Senate Political Subdivisions Committee voted Wednesday in favor of HB 1323. They were Sens. Heitkamp, Jordan Kannianen, R-District 4, and Diane Larson, R-District 30.
Sen. Larry Luick, R-District 25, was also a member of Wednesday’s majority voting for HB 1323. State representatives from District 25 and District 26, Daily News previously reported, were divided on the bill. Republican Cynthia Schreiber-Beck and Democratic-Nonpartisan Alisa Mitskog, both District 25, voted against the bill in February. Reps. Ertelt and Kathy Skroch, R-District 26, voted for it.
“The Senate version (passed Wednesday) eliminated the language that restricted requiring masks for entry, education, employment or services — extremely broad language that negatively affected employers,” Schreiber-Beck said Thursday.
Schreiber-Beck said she was unsure if the House will concur with the amended HB 1323.
“I think that they’ll concur,” Heitkamp said. “If they concur, the bill’s not going to go to committee, but to the governor’s desk. I just pray that he passes it.”
Heitkamp said he supported HB 1323 because it makes mask mandates a local, rather than state, matter.
“The beautiful part about this is that if the citizens of Wahpeton don’t want a mandate, they can talk to their mayor, they can talk to their city council. Talking to city leaders is the way it should be and this bill allows that,” Heitkamp said.
In January, both the state of North Dakota and cities including Wahpeton lifted their mask mandates. At the same time, Wahpeton Mayor Steve Dale reminded the public that any business may choose to require the use of face masks in their establishment.
“Be respectful of those businesses and their wishes,” Dale said previously. “Those businesses know how a 10-day quarantine can impact them. It’s their personal choice on how to manage masks. It’s individuals’ personal choice to wear them when not otherwise requested.”
Dale also previously requested that the public remain vigilant against COVID-19. This includes continuing to practice social distancing and following other prevention methods as advocated by the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Richland County, North Dakota, confirmed five new and 30 active COVID-19 cases Friday, April 9. The county has had 1,936 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, 1,889 recoveries and 17 deaths from or related to the disease to date, according to NDDoH data published Friday. The most recent local COVID-19 death was confirmed March 10.