Bill Introduced to Ensure Civil Rights for LGBT North Dakotans
Committee rejects bill with a Do Not Pass recommendation
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a standing room only hearing on Wednesday on SB 2303, sponsored by Sen. JoNell Bakke of Grand Forks (D-43). The legislation would affirm the rights of North Dakotans to be free from discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the fifth time legislation to ban discrimination against LGBT citizens has been considered by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly.
“This is the defining civil rights issue of this generation,” said Sen. Bakke. “It is fitting that the hearing was held the same week we honor the life and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King taught us all Americans should be free to pursue their hopes and dreams free from discrimination.”
More than a dozen North Dakotans ranging from human rights activists to private citizens testified in favor of the bill. It says people cannot be fired from their jobs for being gay, and landlords could no longer refuse to rent to LGBT individuals or couples. The bill received a Do Not Pass recommendation from the committee on a 5-1 vote.
“These are basic rights most North Dakotans take for granted,” Sen. Bakke said. “This is not about elevating one class of people over another. This is about ensuring LGBT individuals can’t be fired from their job or evicted from their homes. After hearing testimony in opposition to the bill, I considered areas for compromise could be reached, but the bill was voted out before I was given an opportunity to present any amendments.”
Leadership recommended the bill be sent back to committee to consider Senator Bakke’s amendments. Senator Bakke’s proposal would delete portions of the bill to ensure it reflected the original intent to just address employment and housing and not other public accommodations. The amendment was defeated by a 4-2 vote. The committee again voted 5-1 to send it to the full Senate with a Do Not Pass recommendation.
According to Senator Bakke, the chief complaint by opponents of these bills is that they are too broad. “We’ve compromised session after session and have never been offered a solution. We shouldn’t have to compromise on the rights of any North Dakotan, so it is extremely disappointing that the committee wouldn’t even support a narrowly tailored bill that finally gives LGBT individuals some protection under the law.”
“Young people are leaving our state because they don’t feel welcome, and those who do stay here hide their true selves for fear of retribution,” said Sen. Bakke. “No one should have to live in fear because of who they are. At a time we are trying to recruit and retain a qualified workforce in our state why are we closing the door to opportunities for all North Dakotans?”