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August brings parade of new laws in conservative N. Dakota

July 16, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Mothers may breastfeed their children in public without having to do so discreetly. Citizens can stand their ground and use whatever force necessary to protect themselves or their home. Booze will be allowed to be sold much earlier on Sunday mornings and state officials may not mandate face coverings.

These changes are among hundreds of new state laws that take effect Aug. 1, representing the work of the 2021 Republican-led Legislature.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2009 that exempted breastfeeding from the state’s indecent exposure laws, as long as “the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner.” Bipartisan legislation signed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum removed that language that backers argued was outdated. A nearly identical bill was rebuffed by the Legislature two years ago, even after a small army of moms with babies in arms descended on the Capitol to push for reform.

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Beginning next month, legislation takes effect that eases restrictions on citizens’ rights to use deadly force in self-defense and allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances. Backers of the legislation said criminals have had an advantage over potential victims, who should not have to retreat in a life-threatening situation. The legislation doesn’t apply to someone who provokes someone and then uses deadly force.

Another new law allows alcohol to be sold beginning at 8 a.m. on Sundays. Currently, bars and restaurants can’t serve alcohol from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sundays. And liquor stores can’t sell alcohol until noon on Sundays.

Budget-writers estimate Sunday morning alcohol sales could raise $312,000 over the next two-year budget cycle in tax revenue for the state.

The Legislature overrode Burgum’s veto of a bill that would prohibit state officials from mandating face coverings beginning in August. Burgum called the legislation irresponsible. Backers of the legislation argued there was no proof that masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and they questioned the government’s role in mandating them.

Also beginning next month, underage booze drinkers will no longer face the prospect of jail time. Under current law, anyone under 21 who “consumes, purchases or possesses an alcoholic beverage” may be charged with a class B misdemeanor, carrying up to a $1,500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. The law makes it an infraction, that carries up to a $1,000 fine with no possibility of jail time.

People will also soon be barred from suing over asbestos exposure unless they’ve already been sickened by it. Backers argued the legislation was needed to guard against fraudulent claims.

Labor unions and veterans groups are urged North Dakotans who may have been exposed to asbestos to get screened before a new law takes effect.

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Another new law is aimed at shielding schools and teachers from lawsuits arising from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Burgum signed the legislation despite warnings from attorneys and school officials that the legislation is unconstitutional and would spur costly and unwinnable legal fights.

Industry-backed legislation signed by Burgum reduces the amount of interest and penalties the state can charge companies for unpaid oil and gas royalties, from 30% to 15% beginning Aug. 1. The law, which sailed through the Legislature, also does not allow the state to collect unpaid royalties before August 2013.

Officials estimate the legislation will cost the state about $70 million in royalty reimbursements, the bulk of which is meant to support public education.