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For 4th time, ND lawmakers reject bill protecting people against discrimination for sexual orientation

BISMARCK - House members rejected a bill Friday, Feb. 10, that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the fourth time such legislation has failed at the North Dakota Legislature.Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, the primary...

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Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, listens to Human Services Committee Chairman Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, answer a question Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, during the floor debate on HB1386 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. The bill, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, was defeated 22-69. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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House members rejected a bill Friday, Feb. 10, that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the fourth time such legislation has failed at the North Dakota Legislature over the past decade.

Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, the primary sponsor of the bill, made two attempts during the floor debate to have House Bill 1386 amended and gain more bipartisan support. After his motions were unsuccessful, the bill failed in a 22-69 vote.

“Since day one, we’ve been ready and willing to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass this bill,” Boschee said in a statement after the vote. “We cannot let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to providing basic protections that are so important to so many of our citizens. Passing a bill that provides these protections - even if it doesn’t include every single provision we want - is better than not passing any bill at all.”

Boschee asked to have the bill returned to committee, but that was rejected on a 32-59 vote. He then tried to amend the bill on the House floor to limit it to government employment and government-provided services, but that effort also failed.

Earlier this week, the House Human Services Committee gave the bill a “do not pass” recommendation after rejecting amendments.

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House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said there would have been no benefit to sending the bill back to the committee because “the results would not have been any different.”

“They had that complete discussion on the very same document … down in committee and they were not accepted,” he said, adding that he was pleased with a “very polite debate.”

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, chairman of the Human Services Committee, said discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation occurs in North Dakota, but he doesn’t believe the bill would make a difference.

Weisz said North Dakotans can already file a complaint with the state Labor Department, which can forward complaints that relate to sexual orientation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, argued that the bill would also protect people against discrimination in housing, insurance and other areas that are not under the Labor Department’s jurisdiction.

“I believe our state needs to take a stance and say that it’s not OK to have an unlevel playing in regards to opportunities for employment, shelter, insurance protection and basic civil liberties,” Beadle said.

Weisz said he believes people should be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the challenge with the bill is how to legally define something that is not readily apparent.

“Legally what we’re addressing, what we’re protecting is a lifestyle. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that you’re not born gay or anything else,” Weisz said. “What I’m saying is the law cannot differentiate. It only knows if you’re gay if you say so.”

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Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, pointed out that the law already prohibits discrimination for other areas that may not be apparent, such as a person’s religion or mental or physical disability.

Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, supported the bill.

“All North Dakotans deserve to be treated equally and live free of discrimination,” Burgum said in a statement released after the vote. “As we compete with other states to fill the thousands of open jobs in North Dakota, we must be a place where everyone feels welcome.”

State law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and status in regard to marriage or public assistance. House Bill 1386 would have added sexual orientation to that list.

The bill wouldn’t prevent religious organizations from establishing any qualifications or hiring criteria for employees and volunteers in religious positions.

Similar legislation has failed in the North Dakota Legislature in 2009, 2013 and 2015 sessions.

After watching the vote from the House balcony, Kathryn Dunlap said she was disappointed but not surprised by the result. As a bisexual woman living in Bismarck, she said she could face housing discrimination.

Dunlap called the vote a “continued slight.”

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“Despite the rather passionate suggestion that this is a state in which we love, respect and support one another, that isn’t the sensation I feel right now,” she said. “I don’t feel supported. I don’t feel respected.”

Wearing a rainbow button outside the House chambers, Kevin Tengesdal, who is gay, said he was disappointed but had a positive outlook on the future.

“There’s always hope,” he said.

During the floor debate, Weisz emphasized that North Dakotans welcome everyone.

“I would hope if this bill is defeated that people don’t think that we are taking a welcome mat away from the border of our state,” Weisz said.

How they voted on House Bill 1386 Yes: Reps. Pamela Anderson, Thomas Beadle, Jake Blum, Tracy Boe, Randy Boehning, Joshua Boschee, Lois Delmore, Gretchen Dobervich, Ron Guggisberg, Karla Rose Hanson, Kathy Hogan, Richard Holman, Mary Johnson, George Keiser, Andrew Maragos, Bob Martinson, Alisa Mitskog, Corey Mock, Emily O’Brien, Shannon Roers Jones, Mark Sanford and Mary Schneider.

No: Reps. Bert Anderson, Dick Anderson, Rich S. Becker, Rick C. Becker, Larry Bellew, Glenn Bosch, Roger Brabandt, Mike Brandenburg, Al Carlson, Chuck Damschen, Jeff Delzer, Bill Devlin, Jason Dockter, Sebastian Ertelt, Jim Grueneich, Patrick Hatlestad, Craig Headland, Pat Heinert, Michael Howe, Craig Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Daniel Johnston, Terry Jones, Tom Kading, Karen Karls, Jim Kasper, Keith Kempenich, Dwight Kiefert, Lawrence Klemin, Ben Koppelman, Kim Koppelman, Vernon Laning, Mike Lefor, Donald Longmuir, Scott Louser, Jeffrey Magrum, Andrew Marschall, Aaron McWilliams, Lisa Meier, David Monson, Mike Nathe, Jon Nelson, Bill Oliver, Christopher Olson, Mark Owens, Gary Paur, Chet Pollert, Todd Porter, Karen Rohr, Dan Ruby, Matthew Ruby, Bernie Satrom, Mike Schatz, Jim Schmidt, Randy Schobinger, Cynthia Schreiber-Beck, Jay Seibel, Luke Simons, Kathy Skroch, Vicky Steiner, Roscoe Streyle, Gary Sukut, Nathan Toman, Wayne Trottier, Steve Vetter, Don Vigesaa, Robin Weisz, Greg Westlind and Denton Zubke.

Absent/not voting: Gary Kreidt, Marvin Nelson and Brandy Pyle.

 

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Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, urges other House members to vote in favor of HB1386 during floor debate Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

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