BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Bills to prevent vaccine mandates and the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism were among a handful of measures approved for advancement Monday during the opening day of the North Dakota Legislature's special session.
More than two dozen bills were submitted ahead of the session but had to win the endorsement of the House or Senate’s delayed-bills committee. The bipartisan panels both have five members and are controlled by the Legislature’s GOP leadership.
Republicans control both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert told reporters that the session's priorities are legislative redistricting and the approval of a spending plan for federal coronavirus relief aid.
But restricting vaccination mandates and banning the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism, known as critical race theory, are hot-button issues that need to be addressed, the leaders said.
“We work for the people,” Wardner said. Bills to prevent vaccine mandates are “right on top of the priority list for them.”
Legislators will begin hearings on the legislation Tuesday.
The prospect of vaccine mandates has become a lightning-rod issue in North Dakota. Several hundred people gathered outside the Capitol Monday to oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and to urge lawmakers to quickly counter them.
North Dakota’s Republican leadership and GOP Gov. Doug Burgum oppose vaccine mandates and State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican, has brought North Dakota into a federal lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s push for them.
The special session approved by Burgum has no time restriction, but legislative leaders said they hoped it would only last five days.
Any legislation during a special session could take effect immediately upon being approved by a majority vote.
Legislators make $189 daily while in session. Each day they are in a special session costs taxpayers about $64,000.