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House committee gives thumbs-down to bill outlawing sexual orientation discrimination

BISMARCK – Legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation in North Dakota received an unfavorable committee vote Tuesday.

The House Human Services Committee voted 11-2 to give Senate Bill 2279 a do-not-pass recommendation.

Committee chairman Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said the bill could come up for a House floor vote as early as today but will more likely be placed on Thursday’s calendar.

Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, a bill sponsor and the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, said he was disappointed that the unfavorable vote was stronger than the 7-6 do-not-pass recommendation that a similar bill in 2009 received from the same committee before dying in the House 34-54.

“We expected that there’d be a little more support,” he said.

Reps. Gail Mooney of Cummings and Kylie Oversen of Grand Forks, both Democrats, voted against the do-not-pass recommendation. All 10 Republicans and Rep. Naomi Muscha, D-Enderlin, voted for it.

The Senate approved the bill 25-22 last month despite a 4-2 do-not-pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would add sexual orientation to state law that already protects against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and physical or mental disabilities. Sexual orientation is defined in the bill as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity.”

Supporters say the bill would prohibit discrimination when it comes to housing, employment, public accommodations and services, credit transactions, brokerage services, insurance and jury duty.

Boschee said the committee declined to adopt amendments that would have made the bill more palatable to those who had concerns about it, including one that would have removed public accommodations from the mix and another that would have taken out the “perceived” language.

“It makes one speculate that this is a decision that had already been made ahead of time,” he said.

Supporters will continue to work for every vote in the business friendly House, Boschee said, referring to the backlash from some major corporations over Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that critics contend will encourage discrimination against gay people.

“It’s an opportunity for North Dakota to say our door’s open or our door’s closed. It’s up to this chamber,” he said.

If the House rejects the bill, Boschee said it’ll be brought back in future sessions until it passes.

Similar legislation failed 21-26 in the Senate two years ago. The 2009 bill passed the Senate 27-19 before failing in the House.