Legislature Considers Bill Allowing Local Elected Officials To Order Mandatory Evacuations

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In the 2011 legislative session a bill to allow mandatory evacuation orders from local officials was considered, and rejected, by the legislature because it might have let those orders be issued by bureaucrats instead of elected officials. In the current session the idea is before the legislature again, though this time it’s more clear on who gives the orders.

Currently only the governor can order a mandatory evacuation.

The legislation is HB1120.

The Bismarck Tribune has a good review of the debate. Supporters want it because they say sometimes orders need to be issued quickly, by people on the ground. Morton County Commissioner Bruce Strinden tells the Tribune that emergencies such as the anhydrous ammonia spill here in Minot require more local power.

That seems like a strange example. Immediate evacuation wasn’t the problem in that emergency. In fact, the those who died from that spill did so because they went outside into the resulting chemical fog and died from exposure.

I’m not convinced local governments need this power. Citizens well-informed of emergencies will generally act on their own to get out of the way. And, sometimes, the government makes poor choices in ordering such evacuations. During the Grand Forks flooding, Democrat state Senator Connie Triplett remained in her home and was able to save it. Had she evacuated as ordered, she would have lost her home.

This seems like a solution in search of the problem. Looking at the last several years of natural disasters in North Dakota, I fail to see how local authority to order mandatory evacuations would have helped in any of those situations. The government has adequate power to respond to emergencies as is. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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