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North Dakota GOP leaders make plans to end mask mandate on lawmakers

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said he would like the lower chamber to vote on removing the internal mask mandate on March 12 — 10 days after lawmakers return from their midsession break. Pollert noted his counterparts in the Senate expressed a preference for March 19, but he said leaders from the chambers would hold further negotiations to firm up the date.

Rep. Chet Pollert and Sen. Rich Wardner
Rep. Chet Pollert and Sen. Rich Wardner. Submitted photos

BISMARCK — Leaders in the North Dakota Legislature have said they will soon reconsider a mask requirement on lawmakers, lobbyists and visitors at the state Capitol.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said he would like the lower chamber to vote on removing the internal mask mandate by March 12 — 10 days after lawmakers return from their midsession break. Pollert noted his counterparts in the Senate expressed a preference for March 19, but he said leaders from the chambers would hold further negotiations to firm up the date.

The House and Senate passed the mask rule on their own members in December after top Republican lawmakers threw their weight behind the measure. Since the beginning of the legislative session on Jan. 4, lawmakers, staff and other Capitol visitors have been required to wear masks or face shields on the chamber floors and other communal areas, though the rule is lightly enforced and oft ignored.

House Speaker Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, reminded his chamber several times to wear their masks on the chamber floor, but a handful of lawmakers have ignored the calls.

Reconsidering the mask rule would likely require a two-thirds vote in both chambers, though several members of the House Rules Committee asserted that killing the mandate wouldn't require such a high bar. Most committee members expressed a strong preference toward abolishing the rule, citing the state's significant drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths over the last three months.

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Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, told Forum News Service there are a few conditions to revising the rule, including ensuring that no new COVID-19 cases pop up in the chambers.

A few lawmakers have announced positive COVID-19 tests since December, including Grand Forks Sen. Ray Holmberg and Jamestown Sen. Terry Wanzek . The total number of legislators who have tested positive is unknown.

For now, Wardner said lawmakers still need to follow the mask policy.

"We're not law breakers — we're supposed to be lawmakers, so let's follow our own rules," Wardner said.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said lawmakers should be careful in rolling back COVID-19 prevention measures too much. He pointed to the South Dakota House, which has no mask requirement and saw an outbreak last week that moved more than a dozen lawmakers to remote work.

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