Senate OKs bill to prohibit state from requiring masks

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Senate endorsed a measure Wednesday that would prohibit the state from mandating face coverings.

Senators approved the bill 30-17, but amended it to give local governments, schools and employers the option of requiring masks.

Representatives approved the measure 50-44 in February. It now goes back to the House for review of the Senate amendment.

Bill sponsor GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson and others have 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.

The state health officer, backed by Gov. Doug Burgum, imposed a mask mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that had been among the worst in the U.S. and threatened to overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

The Republican governor dropped the statewide mask requirement as well as limits on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues about two months later, citing a dramatic drop in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.