Lawmakers approve temporary 'mask mandate' -- more debate could come | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Lawmakers approve temporary 'mask mandate' -- more debate could come

Dec 2, 2020

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R-Carrington), at the lectern, and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) brief reporters on the new rules for the Legislative session.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature have approved temporary rules for the organizational session – that include mask mandates in Legislative areas in the Capitol.

The mandate is in effect for Legislative spaces where six-foot social distancing is not available.

The House vote on the mask mandate was 74 to 26. The Senate also overwhelmingly approved the temporary rule.

Rep. Sebastian Ertelt (R-Lisbon) argued there’s no proof that masks work. And he said South Dakota has no mandates.

"They've taken the approach of individual liberty and personal responsibility, as opposed to force," Ertelt said. "Unsurprisingly, to some, they have a lower mortality rate attributed to the Coronavirus than we do here."

But Rep. Gretchen Dobervich (D-Fargo) said mask wearing is proven as an effective way of stopping virus spread.

"I just feel it's not asking a lot, for us to protect each other, so we can do the business of the people who elected us to be here, and keep ourselves and each other safe," Dobervich argued. "It's a mask. It works. The science is behind it."

This is a prelude to a debate that could happen Thursday, when both chambers take up the permanent rules that govern the regular session, which starts in January.

Earlier, the Majority Leaders of the House and Senate briefied reporters about the mask requirement.

"Our number one priority is being able to safely do the work of the people," Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) said. "If we end up having to quarantine because of being tested positive, what's going to happen is we're going to have disruption all through the session."

Wardner said leadership has worked hard to make sure things will move smoothly.

The leaders said if a legislator does not want to wear a mask on the floor, that member can work remotely, in offices that are being set up in the Capitol -- or work from home, using technology.