The Republican-held Legislature passed more than 500 bills during its biennial session earlier this year, and many will officially go into the law books on Aug. 1.
North Dakota will join at least 25 other states in having a so-called “stand-your-ground” law, which expands the existing “castle” law that permits the use of deadly force at one’s home or workplace but requires an effort to escape the attacker in public places unless one’s life is in danger. The new law eliminates the “duty to retreat” and allows the use of deadly force to prevent a violent felony in public or any other place a person is legally permitted to be.
Supporters of the bill, a favorite of gun rights advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association, said it promotes victims’ rights to protect themselves from attackers and violent criminals in public. Opponents argued it opens the door to false claims of self-defense by bad actors who were never in danger of serious harm and could negatively affect people of color.
As part of a series of reactions to pandemic policies made by Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration, conservative lawmakers barred the state health officer and statewide elected officials, including the governor, from issuing mask mandates. Many legislators took issue with a Burgum-backed mask requirement ordered in November during the state’s peak in COVID-19 infections, the nation’s most severe outbreak at the time.
Demonstrators gathered outside the North Dakota Capitol in support of a proposal to ban mask mandates on April 5, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
Lawmakers voted to override Burgum’s veto of the legislation, characterizing mask mandates as a violation of personal freedoms. The Republican governor said the bill “removes a tool from the emergency toolkit” that could be crucial in a future health crisis.
Another controversial law going into effect will allow schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms at public schools provided that the religious text appears alongside other historical documents. Supporters of the bill said posting the text could remedy social ills, but opponents argued it was likely unconstitutional and would draw legal challenges.
One soon-to-be law in North Dakota has already drawn disapproval from a state on the opposite end of the political spectrum. California announced last month it would ban state employees from making publicly funded trips to North Dakota over legislation that allows student organizations at public colleges and universities to deny membership to those who don’t align with their beliefs. California Attorney General Rob Bonta classified the bill as anti-LGBT, but proponents say that’s a major stretch and the legislation is only meant to ensure free speech on campus.
North Dakota liquor stores will soon be able to open up as early as 8 a.m. on Sundays, so residents will likely find easier access to a case of cold ones before a fishing trip or football kickoff. The remnants of the state’s once-strict blue laws currently prohibit the sale of alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays.
A beer selection at a Fargo liquor store. Forum file photo
Residents ages 18 to 20 will soon face diminished penalties if caught consuming, possessing or buying booze. A new law will take the maximum punishment down from a Class B misdemeanor to an infraction, which means no possibility of jail time for the first two offenses.
However, drug dealers whose illicit products cause a fatal overdose will be hit with harsher penalties. The legal change on Aug. 1 will take a felony drug distribution charge up one level of severity for a drug dealer or trafficker found to have sold illegal substances that led to a death.
Oil and gas companies in North Dakota will get a break on their royalty bills to the state if they pay late. The industry-supported legislation takes the maximum penalties for overdue payments down from 30% to 15% and enacts a seven-year statute of limitations on royalty collections by the state.
A small change in the letter of the law means women breastfeeding in public will no longer have to act in “a discreet and modest manner.” The legislation passed earlier this year likely ends a long fight over the legal restrictions on public breastfeeding, which was once classified as indecent exposure.
Democratic state Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, left, pitches her bill updating the state’s breastfeeding law Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service