The question of whether state and local government should be involved in the business of mandating masks is set to be voted on tomorrow (Wednesday, April 7th) in the North Dakota Senate. As you can see here, leadership must be preparing for a doozy of a debate— it’s the first of just six bills on the 14th Order.
As I wrote just two days ago, House Bill 1323 has apparently garnered more email communication to lawmakers than any other bill this session. There was even a rally at the State Capitol yesterday to communicate to lawmakers the importance of the passing the legislation.
If it were to become law in its current form, HB 1323 would prohibit a “state or local elected official, the state, or a political subdivision of the state” from “making use of a face mask, shield, or covering a condition for entry, education, employment, or services.” Private businesses, of course, would remain free to do so.
There’s an interesting side note to all of this though. After the bill squeaked by the House back in February, the word at the Capitol was that there was pressure to reconsider it. Meaning, because it passed by just two votes, some wanted to bring it back, flip the necessary votes, and kill the bill.
Speculation at the Capitol said that it was the governor’s office who wanted the legislation killed. Yet, the bill never was reconsidered in the House. Instead, one lawmaker told me that the dirty work was left to the Senate.
My guess is that Governor Doug Burgum doesn’t want this thing on his desk. He knows all too well that the mere idea of a mask mandate wasn’t exactly popular last year. For him, it’s better if the Senate does the dirty work and just kills the bill. That way he doesn’t have to face the backlash of a veto— which I’m told he’s likely to do.
I see no way that HB 1323 stands a chance in its current form. There’s just too much opposition to it in the Senate. This is a reality that the bill’s primary sponsor — Rep. Jeff Hoverson (R – District 3) — addressed at yesterday’s rally. Like or not, it’s almost a certainty that there will be at least one amendment offered on the floor.
From what I’m told, the possibilities for amendments might include adding a two-year sunset provision and/or stripping out the prohibition on local control. Meaning, any prohibition would end in two years and have to be renewed again and/or that the state would be prohibited from implementing mask mandates, but local government and schools would still be permitted to do so.
The other challenge that proponents of HB 1323 may face tomorrow is whether they can beat the opposition to the punch when it comes to offering amendments. Because there’s the possibility that amendments could be offered to essentially neuter the bill or make it so problematic that it could never survive going back to the House for concurrence or a conference committee.
Make no mistake about it. It’s a tough road ahead for HB 1323.
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- View Floor Calendar: LegSS: Legislative Branch
- ND Senate to Vote on Bill Prohibiting Gov’t Mask Mandates – The Minuteman Blog
- North Dakota Bill Versions: HB 1323 (nd.gov)
- Bill Prohibiting Gov’t Mask Mandates Squeaks by ND House- For Now – The Minuteman Blog