By JAMES MacPHERSON
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Friday approved bills to prevent COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism, as lawmakers completed their five-day special session.
The Senate voted 38-9 to give final approval to a measure banning the teaching of critical race theory, which is defined as a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. GOP Gov. Doug Burgum signed the critical race theory bill later Friday, and also signed the vaccination bill.
Though there is no evidence that critical race theory is being taught in North Dakota’s schools, backers said the bill aims to ensure it won’t be.
Mott GOP Sen. Donald Schaible, who carried the bill on the Senate floor, said the measure is preemptive “to try to make sure that it doesn’t come to our schools.”
Senators also approved a House bill 33-14 Friday to restrict COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The measure provides exemptions for medical, philosophical or religious reasons, and would allow workers to avoid vaccinations if they agree to frequent testing for the coronavirus.
Representatives on Friday gave final approval to a bill that excludes Social Security benefits from income tax. Legislative budget writers estimate the measure will reduce state revenues by $14.6 million in the current two-year budget cycle.
Senators gave final approval to a bill that would provide a $350 income tax credit for each North Dakota resident filing a return for 2021 and 2022. The income tax relief was pushed by Burgum, who recommended using part of the state’s hefty and better-than-forecast ending fund balance of $1.1 billion in the last two-year budget cycle.
Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature. Burgum last month called the special session to deal with a limited agenda that included legislative redistricting and the approval of a spending plan for federal coronavirus relief aid.
Also Friday, the Senate gave final approval on a measure that spends nearly the entire amount of the $1.1 billion in federal coronavirus aid available to the state. The spending includes funding initiatives ranging from infrastructure improvements to workforce development programs. The appropriation incudes $150 million to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from the state’s oil-producing region in the western part of the state to eastern North Dakota.
Only $63 million of the federal funding was not appropriated by state lawmakers.
Redistricting was among the main issues before the Legislature. Burgum on Thursday signed the redistricting legislation, that reflects a continued loss of political clout in rural areas due to population shifts in the past decade.
Though the map maintains 47 legislative districts, it creates three new districts in the state’s fastest-growing areas but erases an equal amount in population-lean rural regions. The new map also separates House districts on two American Indian reservations, a move tribal leaders believe will increase the odds for electing their own members to the Legislature.