Published November 12, 2021

Anti-Vaccine-Mandate Bill Passes

Written by
Greg Demme
| The Dakotan
Floor debate taking place Friday, Nov. 12, on the floor of the North Dakota Senate [Photo: Greg Demme]
Floor debate taking place Friday, Nov. 12, on the floor of the North Dakota Senate [Photo: Greg Demme]

Bill provides more North Dakotans with exemption options

As this week’s legislative special session came to a close, a bill limiting and regulating COVID-vaccine mandates passed both houses of the North Dakota legislature today, Friday, Nov. 12. Now it only needs the governor’s signature to become state law. 

What exactly HB 1511 accomplishes is fairly complicated. The language of the bill leaves federal employees hanging in the balance, awaiting the outcome of North Dakota’s lawsuit against the federal government, because this bill won’t apply to many people who are employed or contracted under any type of federal funding.  

This unprotected group includes employees and contractors of health care institutions that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, employees of any business operating on a federal contract, and also employees and students (including student athletes) at many of the state’s universities. Additionally, it doesn’t protect employees working in the state for companies that have 100 or more employees. All those categories (and more) must wait until the result of North Dakota’s lawsuit. 

“We do provide some protections.” Sen. Michael Dwyer (R-Dis. 47, Bismarck)

However, the bill does provide exemptions for many employees if their employer within the state chooses to initiate a vaccine mandate. As Sen. Michael Dwyer (R-Dis. 47, Bismarck) explained, “We do provide some protections.” Those protections come in the form of exemptions. Possible exemptions include showing proof of anti-bodies, submitting to periodic testing, presenting a medical exemption, or an exemption on the basis of religious, philosophical, or moral beliefs. 

Another contested aspect of the bill involves the State Department of Health’s recent Request for Purchase to create a COVID vaccine QR code (an electronic “vaccine passport”). Rep. Shannon Roers-Jones (R-Dis. 46, Fargo) stated in Thursday night’s House session, “This is just simply an ability for someone to opt in to have the ability to receive your immunization records on your phone so that you don’t have to worry about carrying a card.” Sen. Judy Lee (R-Dis. 13, West Fargo) added this morning, “I find the idea of being able to pick up my phone, or a private app, and having all that stuff on there to be extremely attractive.”  

An amendment had been introduced earlier in the week by Rep. Rick Becker (R-Dis. 7, Bismarck) to prevent the state from doing this at this point in time. “What this comes down to,” said Rep. Becker, “is determining whether that tiny, additional, theoretical convenience is worth going along with the idea that yes, we’re going to have vaccine passports.” In fact, Rep. Jason Dockter (R-Dis. 7, Bismarck) added, “There’s already third-party vendors out there. You can go onto the app store and get one if you want to have this stuff.”  

ND Senate vote on HB 1511 [Photo: Greg Demme]

The bill passed the Senate 33-14 Friday morning, after originally passing the House Thursday night 80-11. Friday morning the House concurred (76-11) with some slight Senate amendments. HB 1511 will now go to the governor’s desk for his signature.   

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