ND legislature passes bill requiring the state health officer to be a physician

Dr. Nizar Wehbi
Dr. Nizar Wehbi(kfyr)
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 11:49 AM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., will be receiving a bill that changes the qualifications of one of his own cabinet members.

When April turns to May, North Dakota will have seen five individuals serve as North Dakota’s state health officer.

After seeing the difficulty of filling the position, the state legislature passed a bill that changes the rules on who qualifies to fill the position.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed HB 1418, which would require the person serving to be a physician. Not all of the personnel filling the role in the past year have been medical doctors.

“Who we hire as the state health officer needs a little training in public health and background in that discipline, but would have the respect of the public and could do the job that we need,” said Sen. Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake.

If the officer isn’t a physician, the state must hire a panel of three physicians to consult with the state health officer.

The bill recently required the officer to be a “licensed physician,” but was amended to remove the “licensed” clause.

Had that amendment not been added, North Dakota’s soon-to-be State Health Officer Dr. Nizar Wehbi would not qualify for the position because his licensure expired after years of working in administration.

According to the governor’s office, Wehbi meets the criteria under the amended “physician” version of the bill.

It passed the State Senate 43 – 4 and the State House 87 – 7, which indicates enough votes to overturn a possible veto.

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