BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate has endorsed a bill that would bar state officials from issuing mask mandates in the future, but last-second amendments watered down the proposal.
The upper chamber voted 30-17 on Wednesday, April 7, to send House Bill 1323 back to the House of Representatives, which narrowly passed a more far-reaching version of the legislation in February. If the House concurs with the amendments, the bill will go to Gov. Doug Burgum's desk.
The changes to the bill mean it would only prohibit state officials, including the governor and state health officer, from creating a mask requirement, but cities, counties, school boards and businesses would still be allowed to mandate mask use.
The pushback on compulsory mask-wearing comes several months after Burgum's administration imposed a statewide face covering mandate amid the nation's most severe COVID-19 outbreak. Burgum had previously expressed skepticism of mask requirements but changed his tune as the virus strained the state's hospital capacity. A handful of cities and counties, including Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck, independently required mask use in public prior to the state mandate, which expired in January.
The state's COVID-19 case count plummeted after the local and state mandates were issued, but health experts say a combination of factors, like restrictions on businesses and greater adherence to social distancing, likely played into the drop in infections.