The North Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would make it illegal for state officials to mandate masks.
The bill, which passed 50–44, now heads to the state Senate, according to the Grand Forks Herald. It comes three months after Republican Gov. Doug Burgum implemented a statewide mask mandate.
State Rep. Jeff Hoverson, the bill’s sponsor, called mask mandates “diabolical silliness” and argued they are a part of a conspiracy run by “unelected, wealth bureaucrats who are robbing our freedoms and perpetuating lies.”
Several other Republicans agreed that masks do little to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and state Rep. Jason Dockter argued mask mandates take away control from local governments.
“If people wanted to decide to have a mask mandate, they should have that choice,” Dockter said. “They should also have the choice not to mandate.”
Burgum defended his mask mandate when he first implemented it, even though he admitted he was reluctant to sign it.
“Since the beginning, we’ve taken a data-driven approach to our pandemic response, focusing on saving lives and livelihoods,” Burgum said at the time. “Right now, the data demands a higher level of mitigation efforts to reverse these dangerous trends, to slow the spread of this virus, and to avoid the need for economic shutdowns.”
State Republicans slammed Burgum and several said they would refuse to comply with the “draconian” order.
“The electorate is going to be split,” state Rep. Rick Becker said. “People who want the government to take care of them will be happy.”
But Burgum refused to back down, tearfully asking his colleagues to stop “mask shaming” during a press conference.
“Try to dial up your empathy and your understanding,” Burgum said. “We’re all in this together and there’s only one battle we’re fighting. And that’s the battle of the virus.”