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North Dakota House, Senate lift mask rule in chambers
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North Dakota House, Senate lift mask rule in chambers

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Masks no longer will be required in the North Dakota House and Senate chambers.

The rule change takes effect Friday at the end of legislative business. The House last Friday voted 79-11 and the Senate on Monday voted 38-8 to change the joint rule adopted in December requiring everyone in legislative spaces of the Capitol to wear face masks or shields covering the nose and mouth. The rule change required a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

"We have done a very good job and it was felt that we could loosen this particular rule at this time," said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee. 

Masks still will be required in the Legislature's committee rooms, Memorial Hall, Legislative Hall, Legislative Council office and other spaces. But lawmakers can remove their masks if they can maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others.

Legislative leaders have cited few cases of COVID-19 connected with the Legislature in moving to change the rule. Before the Legislature's midsession break last month, leaders were aware of two cases: a state senator and a legislative employee.

The new rule allows the House and Senate majority leaders to require face coverings in the chambers if "circumstances warrant the reinstatement." Committee chairs also can require people wear masks in their meetings. 

The rule also recommends state lawmakers and legislative staff do a health self-assessment before arriving at the Capitol, and undergo rapid-testing for COVID-19, when offered at the statehouse.

Not everyone has followed the mask rule. Some lawmakers pull down their masks, pull up their face shield or wear no covering at all. Speaker Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, has at times reminded the House to comply with the rule. 

Monday was the Legislature's 39th official day. Lawmakers are allowed up to 80 days to write new laws and budgets.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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