North Dakota Senate votes down LGBT anti-discrimination bill

“The Pioneer Family” stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Forum file photo
“The Pioneer Family” stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Forum file photoForum file photo

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate defeated legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation Friday, Jan. 25, again turning down efforts to add LGBT protections to state law.

Senate Bill 2303 failed in a 20-27 vote. Grand Forks Democratic Sen. JoNell Bakke, the bill's primary sponsor, said it was meant to focus on prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment.

Bakke described her bill as a pared-down version of past efforts. She offered an amendment on the Senate floor that stripped out what she said was unnecessary language that caused some concerns during a committee hearing this week, but it failed.

The bill's proponents called it a matter of civil rights and argued adding sexual orientation to the list of protections that already cover race, sex, national origin and other factors would send a welcoming message to the LGBT community and prevent people from being fired from their job because of employer prejudices. They also cited the state's chronic workforce shortages.

"Do we really want to keep all homegrown North Dakotans here and open our arms to new ones, or don't we?" said Bismarck Democratic Sen. Erin Oban. "This is not a partisan issue. ... It's not an issue that requires political courage."

Opponents said they don't endorse discrimination, but were unconvinced the bill could prevent it and warned the legislation had "broader consequences."

"We can't legislate people being nice to one another," said Bismarck Republican Sen. Diane Larson. "This type of legislation will be used to sue people and will not enhance people loving one another."

Bill supporters in the audience unfurled a banner reading "SHAME!" from the balcony above the Senate floor after the vote, according to a tweet from a North Dakota Newspaper Association reporter.

Friday's vote marked the fifth time in the past 10 years that the Republican-led Legislature has rejected such a proposal. The Senate passed anti-discrimination bills in 2009 and 2015, but they failed in the House.

But this year's debate isn't over. The House will consider another anti-discrimination bill that doesn't cover gender identity.

Elizabeth Loos, legislative coordinator for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said they don't currently support the House bill but are working to "get gender identity included in some way."

"Leaving transgender people out is morally wrong," she said. "I think that it's really important to send a message to everybody that they matter."

But the House bill's primary sponsor, Fargo Republican Rep. Mary Johnson, said Friday she's not open to amendments because the existing "compromise" language has a better chance of passing.

Johnson's bill hasn't yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The state's first openly gay lawmaker, House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, expressed disappointment with the Senate's vote.

"The frustrating piece is that time and time again we get told that we're supposed to bring a different version of the bill, and when we do, then the committee doesn't even work on it to try and make it better," he said.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum didn't have a comment on the Senate bill's failure Friday. A spokesman deferred to previous statements in which the governor said "all North Dakotans deserve to be treated equally and live free of discrimination."

Yes:

JoNell Bakke (D-Grand Forks), Brad Bekkedahl (R-Williston), Kyle Davison (R-Fargo), Jim Dotzenrod (D-Wyndmere), John Grabinger (D-Jamestown), Joan Heckaman (D-New Rockford), Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo), Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks), Karen Krebsbach (R-Minot), Curt Kreun (R-Grand Forks), Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), Richard Marcellais (D-Belcourt), Tim Mathern (D-Fargo), Scott Meyer (R-Grand Forks), Erin Oban (D-Bismarck), Dave Oehlke (R-Devils Lake), Merrill Piepkorn (D-Fargo), Larry Robinson (D-Valley City), Kristin Roers (R-Fargo), Ronald Sorvaag (R-Fargo)

No:

Howard Anderson (R-Turtle Lake), Randy Burckhard (R-Minot), David Clemens (R-West Fargo), Dwight Cook (R-Mandan), Dick Dever (R-Bismarck), Michael Dwyer (R-Bismarck), Jay Elkin (R-Taylor), Robert Erbele (R-Lehr), Robert Fors (R-Larimore), David Hogue (R-Minot), Jordan Kannianen (R-Stanley), Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden), Oley Larsen (R-Minot), Diane Larson (R-Bismarck), Gary Lee (R-Casselton), Larry Luick (R-Fairmount), Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburg), Arne Osland (R-Mayville), Dale Patten (R-Watford City), Nicole Poolman (R-Bismarck), Jim Roers (R-Fargo), David Rust (R-Tioga), Donald Schaible (R-Mott), Jessica Unruh (R-Beulah), Shawn Vedaa (R-Velva), Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown), Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson)