North Dakota senators narrowly shot down a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, housing, government and public services.
Senate Bill 2252 was defeated 26-21 during Thursday’s floor session.
Prior to its defeat, an amendment to the bill was brought to the floor by
Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, which would have significantly altered the bill. The amendment drew the majority of the debate Thursday.
The Hogue amendment declared that the state doesn’t condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the amendment went on to say that there would be no cause for action to seek damages, nor would there be any additional protections provided to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals.
Further, the amendment changed the limit on age discrimination from 40 years of age to 55 and reduced the maximum amount of back pay eligible in an employment discrimination case from two years to one.
Hogue said North Dakota has the strongest economy in the country and it was justified in going from two years in potential back pay down to one in discrimination cases.
“It was hard for us (the committee) to imagine it would take someone two years to find a job in North Dakota,” Hogue said.
Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said while the amendment stated North Dakota doesn’t condone discrimination based on sexual orientation, “we don’t provide any recourse.”
Schneider said the lack of recourse seemed like the definition of the word “condone” to him. He noted that North Dakota has received much national attention because of its economy and questioned what a bill with such language would say to those outside the state.
“North Dakota, that’s the state that doesn’t condone discrimination, except when it happens?” Schneider said. “That doesn’t fit.”
Hogue replied that social change historically happens “in fits and starts.”
“You don’t just get to come into this chamber and get the social change you want,” Hogue said.
Hogue compared the effort to eliminate discrimination to the federal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law relating to gays in the military that was in place from 1993 to 2011. Hogue said the amendment, while not perfect, does what former President Bill Clinton did with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
“You start with advancing the football by five yards,” Hogue said.
After further discussion, Hogue’s amendment failed by a 27-20 vote.
The original, unamended bill was then immediately brought to the floor for final consideration.
Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, said SB2252 does create a protected class.
“All of us belong to several protected classes,” Warner said.
Warner said SB2252 isn’t a matter of preferential treatment but that of equal treatment.
After Warner had spoken, the final vote on SB2252 was taken. The bill failed 26-21.