North Dakota House sustains Gov. Burgum's veto of book ban bill

The Senate on Wednesday overrode Burgum's veto in a 33-14 vote. The House on Thursday voted 53-41, upholding the veto. The bill will not become law.

Rep. Bill Tveit, R-Hazen, shuffles documents tied to Senate Bill 2360 around his desk in the House chambers at the state Capitol on Thursday, April 27, 2023.
Darren Gibbins/The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives has sustained Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a book ban bill that carried potential criminal penalties for librarians.

Burgum on Tuesday rejected Senate Bill 2360 by Sen. Keith Boehm, R-Mandan. The governor cited its "enormous burden" on public and K-12 libraries to review their collections for "explicit sexual material," with no money in the bill for libraries to do so. He also blasted the bill for its criminal penalties, and for exempting the State Library and excluding private K-12 schools.

The Senate on Wednesday overrode Burgum's veto in a 33-14 vote. The House on Thursday voted 53-41, upholding the veto. The bill will not become law.

The Senate needed 32 votes to override. The House needed 63 votes to override the veto, Burgum's seventh of the session, and the fifth sustained. The House had previously passed Boehm's bill, 54-38; more House members opposed the bill Thursday than previously.

Veto opponents cited books they perceive as obscene, such as "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe, and criticized the State Library's estimated costs to implement the bill -- as high as $3.6 million in an initial estimate, later revised twice. The House Judiciary Committee exempted the State Library from the bill after the library's first cost estimate.


Bismarck's public library estimated it would cost over $334 million to review its collections to comply with the bill.

Rep. Kathy Frelich, R-Devils Lake, called the fiscal note "garbage."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, said, "All this bill does is require the libraries to comply with the same laws that all of the rest of us have to comply with. That’s it."

Rep. Scott Dyk, R-Williston, said "we are in a porndemic," citing millions of visits to a popular pornography website in 2018.

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Rep. Liz Conmy, D-Fargo (2023)

Rep. Liz Conmy, D-Fargo, cited the passage of House Bill 1362 in upholding the veto. The bill is to make law for parents "the right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of the parent's child."

"I'm going to vote for parental rights," she said.

Rep. Alisa Mitskog, D-Wahpeton, said, "I'm troubled (by) the attack on the good librarians that I know, that care about children, that are dedicated to their work and would do anything to protect children." She added, "I think we're not dealing with reality."

Safeguards on smartphones and social media for children are "the national discussion," she said.


Rep. Eric Murphy, R-Grand Forks, agreed, and said libraries are resources for youth who might question their sexual orientation.

"They're probably not going to walk home and say to Dad, 'Pops, I think I'm gay. What do you think?'" he said. "They're going to struggle, and they're going to go to places that they think it's safe that they can get some information. By golly, if they're going to 'This Book Is Gay' (by Juno Dawson) and they want to read it and try to understand that struggle, that's fine. It's graphic, but it's not pornography."

Some lawmakers also blasted Burgum's vetoes, which total seven so far, compared with roughly 500 bills he has signed. Murphy said "that's the constitutional right of the governor."

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Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo

Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, chastised the House for sustaining most of Burgum's previous vetoes. His seven vetoes are nowhere near a record.

"Less than two-thirds of you trust the collective wisdom of our chamber in consultation with the other chamber. That's sad. That shows that we've lost our way as a body. We no longer believe in a legislative branch," Koppelman said.

Burgum on Tuesday signed House Bill 1205 by House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson. The bill will remove or relocate "explicit sexual material" in public libraries' children's collections.

The bill will mandate public libraries to come up with policies and procedures before next year for removing or relocating "explicit sexual material," handling requests to remove or relocate books, developing age-appropriate book collections, and periodically reviewing collections. Libraries also will have to submit a "compliance report" on their policies to lawmakers.

The two bills defined "explicit sexual material" as "any material which, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community in North Dakota as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."


Several North Dakota Republican lawmakers, including Lefor, have cited sexual topics and visual nudity in drawings in the book "Let's Talk About It" in supporting the bill.

House Speaker Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, last week gaveled down Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, for reading several excerpts related to sex acts from the book. Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, also quoted extensively from the book during a February floor session.

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