In part one of our legislative update series, we blogged about our lobbying efforts to preserve First Amendment rights for all North Dakotans. Our second update detailed our work advocating for criminal justice reform. In this last update, we’ll summarize our lobbying efforts on behalf of the LGBT community, immigrants and refugees, religious freedom, and voting rights.

LGBTQ+ Non-Discrimination – HB 1386 (Failed to Pass)

  • This session’s bill added protections in housing, employment, public accommodations, and other areas of the North Dakota Human Rights Act for LGBTQ+ North Dakotans.  It was introduced by Rep. Joshua Boschee.  We supported the bill along with our coalition partners, but the bill failed to pass out of committee with a favorable recommendation and did not receive enough votes on the House floor to pass.  It is past time for North Dakota’s politicians to recognize the humanity and equality of ND’s LGBTQ population by passing legislation that will prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.  We’ll continue to work toward finding ways to promote policies in North Dakota that ensure LGBTQ+ North Dakotans are protected from discrimination and enjoy equality in the workplace, public spaces, schools, and beyond.

Anti-Sharia – HB 1425 (Defeated)

  • HB 1425 or the anti-Sharia bill was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Kim Koppelman.  This bill was an attempt to ban any consideration or analysis of religious systems or laws in cases heard before North Dakota courts.  Although the bill’s language did not explicitly name Islam, proponents of bills like HB 1425 that passed in other states have been motivated by an unfounded fear that Sharia law or Islamic doctrine will overtake our judicial system and laws.   Our courts routinely hear cases that involve some consideration of whether there was a valid religious belief espoused by one party in the case or whether a contract between two parties can be arbitrated in a religious arbitration.  U.S. courts do not apply religious law, but look to the basis of the belief to determine the facts of a dispute and then apply US laws according to federal and state statutes and the US Constitution.   HB 1425 was unnecessary and a threat to religious freedom.  We collaborated with the ND Catholic Conference and the ND Human Rights Coalition to defeat the bill.

School Prayer – HB 1275 (Passed)

  • This bill was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Kim Koppelman.  HB 1275 sought to allow prayer over the loudspeaker at public and private school games and extracurricular activities.  Speech communicated through a loudspeaker at public or private school activities sanctioned by the ND High School Activities Association is considered government speech.  In order to avoid violating the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, government speech in a school setting cannot appear to promote or endorse any particular religion.  The original version of HB 1275 was unconstitutional.  The bill passed in its unconstitutional form in the House and was amended in the Senate to remove the mandate that loudspeaker prayer be allowed at NDHSAA school activities.  Although the bill as passed is no longer unconstitutional, we have serious concerns that the remaining language of the bill, which allows student initiated prayer at school activities, may encourage or lead to school prayer activities that appear to be endorsed by the government.  Such government endorsement would be unconstitutional because it in effect can coerce students and others to conform to religious beliefs that are not their own. 

Anti-Refugee -- HB 1427 (Passed)

  • This bill was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Chris Olson.  The original version of the bill required the state to evaluate the costs refugee resettlement to cities and the state of North Dakota and under broad and vague language gave the Governor power to determine whether refugee resettlement should be halted in North Dakota based on a limited amount of collected data required by the bill.  We worked with a broad array of partners like Lutheran Social Services, the ND Catholic Conference, ND Human Rights Coalition, immigration attorneys, and the refugee community to defeat this unconstitutional bill.  The House committee voted to overhaul the original version of the bill with a hog house amendment.  The amended bill became a refugee resettlement study to be conducted in the 2017-2018 interim.  The amended refugee study bill passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor.  In June the Legislative Management committee voted to select the refugee study to move forward in the interim.  We will closely follow this interim study and work with coalition partners to present complete and accurate information to the interim committee about the tremendous benefits our state enjoys because refugees and their families resettle in North Dakota and the legal and constitutional requirements the committee must consider during the study.

Voter Identification -- HB 1369 (Passed)

  • HB 1369 was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Al Carlson.  This voter ID bill was another attempt to modify the state’s current voter ID law which is being litigated in ND’s federal court.  In August 2016, a federal court placed an injunction on the state’s voter ID law and required the reinstatement of voter affidavits for use in the 2016 general election for any voter who lacked an ID required by ND’s voter ID law.  HB 1369 sought to remove the affidavit requirement by adding a provisional ballot option to the state’s current voter ID law.  The bill also added a few other supplementary curing documents for voters to use to verify their voter ID (if the ID was not current) such as a utility bill or pay stub.  This bill is problematic for several reasons.  Chief among the bill’s problems is that the provisional ballot is not counted on the eve of the election and will require a qualified voter who could not show ID at the polling place to follow-up with their elections office with a valid voter ID and supplementary documents within 6 days following the election and prior to the meeting of the canvassing board.  If the voter fails to provide an appropriate ID within the required timeframe the voter’s ballot will not be counted in the election.  This does not provide a voter without an official ID a failsafe to vote like the voter affidavit.  The bill as passed also adds an additional burden on otherwise eligible voters to travel to their local election’s office to have their vote count.  Although the bill became law, it remains to be seen whether the new law will pass constitutional scrutiny if it is reviewed by the federal court handling the ongoing voter ID litigation in North Dakota.

Looking forward:

In the interim legislative session we will be following a number of committees as they study refugee resettlement, incarceration issues, and behavioral health.  We encourage you to reach out to us if you have interest in supporting our policy work and we’ll endeavor to keep you up-to-date on our interim legislative work.  And as always, thank you for your continuing support!

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