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Port: Flood of anti-vaccine and other culture war bills proposed for special session

With each day of the special session estimated to cost taxpayers $100,000, some lawmakers have proposed debates over a laundry list of controversial topics.

Photo: Rick Becker table stunt
State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, set up a table and asked citizens to challenge his argument against North Dakota mask mandate. (Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service, via Twitter)
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service, via Twitter
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MINOT, N.D. — A special session of the Legislature is looming.

It's convened because lawmakers have some constitutional duties to attend to, namely the approval of a new legislative district map and the appropriation of more than $1 billion in federal dollars related to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, as I noted in a previous column , there is a push to some extracurricular policy areas that could turn the $100,000-per-day special session it a protracted sideshow.

The Delayed Bills Committee, which must hear the merits of these extracurriculars before they can be introduced, just released a list of the bills submitted so far.

They read like a setlist from just about any episode of Tucker Carlson's nightly rant fest on Fox News.

The list encompasses 21 House bills, and five Senate bills, with nine of the bills dealing with COVID-19 issues like vaccines and five dealing with critical race theory and education.

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We might as well do a summary of what's on the table.

COVID-19 bills

  • Rep. Rick Becker , a Republican from Bismarck, has a bill that would deny things like economic development incentives or tax breaks to any business that implements a vaccine mandate.
  • Rep. Bob Paulson, a Republican from Minot, has a bill that would make it illegal for employers and the government to "discriminate" against the unvaccinated.
  • Rep. Jeff Hoverson , a Republican from Minot, has a bill making it illegal for pharmacists to refuse a prescription for off-label use of ivermectin.
  • Rep. Lisa Meier , a Republican from Bismarck, has a bill making employers "subject to civil liability for any damage or injury sustained" from a vaccine if one is required as a condition of employment.
  • Meier has a second bill prohibiting the government and businesses from requiring proof of vaccine status from employees or private citizens, except in response to a federal vaccine mandate. Certain health care providers, like nursing homes, are also exempt. The bill would also create a civil liability for employers requiring vaccines.
  • Rep. Robin Weisz , a Republican from Hurdsfield, has a bill requiring exemptions to employer vaccine mandates for medical or religious reasons. It would also allow for employees to get out of a vaccine mandate to agreeing to regular testing.
  • Rep. Sebastian Ertelt , a Republican from Lisbon, has a bill that would make it a class C felony to require a vaccine mandate "as a condition for the individual to exercise any right, perform any duty, or enjoy any privilege."
  • Rep. Bill Tveit , a Republican from Hazen, has a bill prohibiting medical care providers from "discriminating" against the unvaccinated and also requiring them to honor off-label prescriptions.
  • Rep. Ben Koppelman , a Republican from West Fargo, has a bill requiring exemptions from employer vaccine mandates for medical and religious reasons and making employers requiring a vaccine liable for any "damages" resulting from that vaccine.

Education bills

  • Rep. Jim Kasper , a Republican from Fargo, has a bill that would prohibit the inclusion of critical race theory in public school curriculum in North Dakota.

  • Rep. Larry Bellew , a Republican from Minot, has a bill creating a new special fund, from the Common Schools Trust Fund, to build and maintain schools.
  • Rep. David Richter, a Republican from Williston, has a bill requiring that curriculum, in both private and public schools, "relating to fundamental theories on human behavior, including theories on age, gender, and race" will be "aligned" to the same statewide standard and "delineate intrinsic human nature from learned moral and political values in accordance with standards developed by the superintendent of public instruction."
  • Rep. Cole Christensen, a Republican from Rogers, has a resolution which would state the Legislature "recognizes parents as the chief stakeholders of the future and education of their children."
  • Sen. Don Schaible , a Republican from Mott, has a bill requiring "any curriculum related to the topics of race, gender, sexuality, and equality" be aligned to statewide standards. It also states that schools "may not require a teacher or any other individual employed by the school district or school to participate in diversity or bias training or professional development providing or implying an individual is intrinsically prejudiced against another individual on the basis of the individual's membership of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, sex, or other protected class."

Tax bills

  • Rep. Craig Headland , a Republican from Montpelier, has a bill making changes to allocations of coal conversion tax revenues.
  • Headland has a second bill implementing cuts to corporate and personal income taxes, and moving the oil extraction tax to a flat 5% (it currently has a trigger, based on oil prices, which changes the rate).
  • Rep. Jason Dockter , a Republican from Bismarck, has a bill imposing a tax on raffles conducted by licensed charitable gaming organizations.
  • Sen. David Hogue , a Republican from Minot, has a bill exempting Social Security benefits from being counted as qualifying income when calculating the state's marriage penalty tax credit.

You can see the rest of the submitted bills here .

A number of the sponsors of these bills, particularly those address vaccines and COVID-19, are affiliated with the Bastiat Caucus of Trump-aligned lawmakers. For what that's worth.

Not all of these bills are bad ideas. For instance, Rep. Headland's tax cuts bill has some merit. The question, though, is whether these topics are appropriate for this special session of the Legislature.

They're not.

These are not emergency issues. These are things that can be debated during the regular session, with all the normal constitutional restraints on legislative days. These are not cans of worms we want to plumb the depths of during an open-ended special session that has no constitutional time limits.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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