Hundreds of new laws to take effect in North Dakota

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Students can't be prohibited from participating in student-initiated prayer at school activities. First-time drug offenders face less-harsh penalties. And most adult North Dakota residents can carry a hidden gun without a permit.

The changes are among hundreds of new state laws that take effect Tuesday, representing the work of the 2017 Legislature.

GOP Gov. Doug Burgum signed 439 bills into law this year after the Republican-led Legislature finished its work. Most of those go on the books Aug. 1, including several that North Dakota residents may — or may not — notice in their daily lives.

Most prominent is one that allows law-abiding adults to forgo background checks and classes that are now required to carry a concealed firearm.

Supporters said the bill promotes the constitutional right to bear arms and allows protection from criminals. Critics worry it could lead to more shootings as people with less training would be carrying weapons.

Another new law passed by North Dakota's pro-gun Legislature removes the requirement of a church to notify local law enforcement of any individual the church authorizes to possess a concealed weapon on church property.

Lawmakers passed legislation that takes effect Tuesday aimed at slowing prison growth by helping nonviolent offenders through treatment and sentencing alternatives rather than putting them behind bars.

Among the measures is one that lowers penalties on first-time offenders for drug possession, with a goal to reserve that prison space for more dangerous criminals.

Confidential drug informants will have new protections. The change comes three years after 20-year-old college student Andrew Sadek was found dead in a river with a bullet in his head and a backpack of rocks tied to his body. The legislation clarifies the rights of people offered the role as a confidential drug informant, including their right to an attorney. It also requires a written agreement.

Beginning Tuesday, students can't be prohibited from participating in any "student-initiated prayer" at a public or private school. Backers said the measure was in response to a prayer not being allowed to be broadcast over the public address system at football games two years ago hosted by parochial high schools.

A handful of emergency measures already have been part of North Dakota law for months, including those spurred by the bitter dispute between Dakota Access pipeline protesters and law enforcement. One law makes it a crime to wear a mask in most cases, and another increases penalties for rioting.

Laws aimed at broadening the oversight of pharmacy benefit managers, and one aimed protecting farm implement dealers from purchasing unwanted equipment are being contested by trade groups in federal court but are still due to take effect Tuesday.