A North Dakota legislative panel on Tuesday heard a raft of bills opponents have called discriminatory toward transgender people, prompting familiar arguments to resurface around topics such as school sports participation.
The House Human Services Committee scheduled a day of hearings involving seven such bills, including two that would restrict transgender girls and women from playing K-12 and college female sports.
Supporters say the proposals ensure fairness in female sports; opponents say the legislation is discriminatory and harmful toward transgender people and would repel major sports tournaments from the state.
But a recent rule change from North Dakota high school sports regulators may have beaten Koppelman to the punch.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association’s Executive Board last year altered a rule applying to transgender students after the NCAA made a similar change to its policy.
The revised policy essentially bans transgender girls who have undergone hormone treatment from participating in girls sports, but the association’s director may allow a trans student to participate in girls sports if the school demonstrates through medical evidence that the athlete has no physical competitive advantage.
The previous rule allowed trans girls to play girls sports after completing one year of hormone treatment.
The association has taken no stance on the proposed legislation.
The House Human Services Committee listens to testimony on bills that would restrict transgender girls and women from playing K-12 and college…
Koppelman said that if lawmakers fail to act, they “will by default be allowing those opportunities of our women to be lost and greatly reduced as society attempts to remove any reference to biological sex and replace it with a social construct of self-identification.”
“We will in essence be allowing the panels in the glass ceiling to be reconstructed and reinstalled over the heads of women in the name of feelings rather than science,” he told the House panel.
Former University of North Dakota athlete Patricia Leno, of Bismarck, told the House committee, “If we don’t do this, women’s athletics, girls athletics will be destroyed.”
Bismarck psychiatrist Dr. Gabriela Balf diagnoses and treats teens experiencing gender dysphoria, characterized by the American Psychiatric Association as a psychological distress due to a mismatch between one’s gender identity and one’s assigned sex at birth. She said the state faces more urgent issues than sports, such as mental health and child abuse.
“We’re not talking about that for some reason. We’re talking about the zero cases of trans athletes in North Dakota,” she told lawmakers. “I urge you to be thoughtful when you vote for these transgender bills that come your way.”
Mia Halvorson, of Fargo, who identifies as transgender, told the panel she heard from lawmakers in 2021 that “trans people were ‘an up and coming trend,’ and here we are two years later and within our state, I have not seen this ‘up and coming trend.’
Mia Halvorson, of Fargo, who identifies as transgender, told the House Human Services Committee on Tuesday that “We do not have trans athletes…
“We do not have trans athletes within our state who are ‘dominating women’s sports,’ and here we are, once again, putting a bill out on the table that is pointless. It does not do anything to benefit any individual within our state of North Dakota,” she said.
Nineteen states, including South Dakota and Montana, have passed laws to limit transgender students’ participation in sports, according to the Associated Press.
Committee Chair Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, last week said his main priority for Tuesday would be keeping the heated hearings from boiling over into disparaging or threatening remarks.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. You have to realize that both sides are passionate; they believe in their position,” Weisz said. “You’ve got to keep control of the committee, but both sides deserve to make their statements.”
The sports bills’ hearings filled one of the Capitol’s largest committee rooms but proceeded orderly.
The Republican-led panel also held hearings Tuesday on bills to prohibit gender-affirming treatments and surgeries for minors and to restrict the use of bathrooms by transgender students and inmates.
The committee ultimately will consider the merits of each proposal. Weisz declined to comment on the content of the bills. In 2021, the longtime lawmaker voted in favor of the bill restricting transgender girls’ participation in female sports.
Weisz last Friday said there are redundancies in the chamber’s gender-related proposals and he would prefer to combine similar ideas into “a couple bills” for the sake of efficiency.
However, Weisz noted that he would oppose the merging of bills that address separate issues, such as sports participation by transgender girls and gender-affirming treatments.
It’s “extremely unlikely” the committee will vote on any of the gender issue legislation this week, Weisz said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear Senate Bill 2231, brought by Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount.
The bill would make it a discriminatory practice for a government entity to require an employee to use a person’s “preferred pronoun” unless required by law. It also would ban school policies, instruction and professional development on “expressed gender,” or “a gender identity, whether expressed through behavior, clothing, mannerisms, preferred pronoun, or physical characteristics, which does not conform to the student’s sex.”
The Senate panel in 2021 handled the sports bill Burgum vetoed. Chairwoman Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, said she supports such legislation as a fairness issue and proactive to what she sees happening in other states. She said the college sports bill might not be as likely to pass as the K-12 sports bill, due to “a lot more choice in college as to whether you will participate in sports at one college versus another.”
Opponents in 2021 cited the sports bill as discriminatory toward transgender girls and repellent to sports tourism. Larson said “It isn’t about the individual people, it’s about fairness in sports.”
She added she’s not in favor of “legislating pronouns, but some people think that we should and so we’ll listen.”
“It’s difficult to have some of these conversations because people are so emotionally invested,” Larson said.
The Senate on Friday defeated a bill that would have barred transgender residents from using pronouns that align with their gender identity at schools and other publicly funded entities.
House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, has said “It’s incumbent on all of us to have a better understanding of what transgender people go through,” but he also has voiced support for lawmakers bringing bills forward “that might be controversial” and if “public policy needs to be tweaked in a certain fashion.” He said he supported the 2021 transgender sports bill “simply because I do not believe that, in my opinion, biological males should be able to compete against females.”
“I don’t have a problem with it being addressed in legislation so there’s (a) clear and concise statute,” Lefor said.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he plans to ask the bills’ sponsors during floor debate whether they have interacted with transgender people or their families to learn their needs.
“There’s thousands of people who are transgender or nonbinary in our state,” he said. “You may not know them because they are living their full, authentic lives, and so this fetishization that my colleagues have around gender identity and sexual orientation is disturbing.”
He said he’s “fearful” some of the bills will pass, “an organized effort” he sees across states.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki declined to comment on the gender-related legislation.
The Republican governor wrote in his 2021 veto message on the bill restricting transgender girls’ participation in sports that the legislation would “unnecessarily inject the state into a local issue by creating a ban with myriad unforeseen consequences.”
Jack Dura is a reporter for The Bismarck Tribune. Jeremy Turley is a reporter for Forum News Service.
Century High School senior Caylee Michela has had many successes in her 10 years with the Aquastorm swim club.
She has been on numerous state champion teams, finished top eight at the state meet 10 times and had the opportunity to attend the 2022 North Dakota and South Dakota Local Swimming Committee Leadership Conference.
She said she joined the club as a third grader because she liked swimming for fun. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with swimming as a sport.
“It’s a very good team environment,” Michela said. “I did a lot of other sports when I was younger, but that one was the best and most encouraging community to be a part of.”
The daughter of James and Lauren Michela, of Bismarck, is this week's Teen of the Week. Thirty-two high school seniors will be recognized by spring, at which time a Teen of the Year will be selected from the weekly winners to receive a $5,000 scholarship sponsored by MDU Resources Group.
Michela joined the Century swim and dive team as a seventh grader and has swum on the varsity team for four years. The team captain is a four-time state qualifier and was named to the All-Conference team.
Michela said she is proud of the relationships she has formed with her teams over the years, and her ability to overcome an injury she suffered last year.
“I had bilateral biceps tendinitis, and that was very hard since I wasn’t able to really put anything into swimming,” she said. “I spent almost a year doing physical therapy, but now I am shooting back up there and showing pretty good improvement. Which is kind of cool as a senior, to still be improving, but also to come back after an injury like that is something I’m pretty proud of.”
Michela also is a passionate musician. She plays the clarinet in wind ensemble, pep band and marching band, and is in Century’s color guard. She has made the All-State band twice and was a part of the 2022-23 Governor’s Band. She said she enjoyed having additional opportunities to perform for her community.
Michela has been in Student Council since sophomore year and was the junior class president. She also is involved in National Honor Society, Mathletes, Science Bowl and Spanish Club.
The AP Scholar with Honor award recipient maintains a 4.2 weighted GPA and is taking a dual-credit class and four Advanced Placement classes this year. This brings her total number of AP classes taken to eight. She scored a near-perfect 35 on her college entrance exam.
English teacher Jesse Armstrong said Michela’s impressive work made her stand out in her AP English language and composition class. Armstrong added that Michela is one of the most capable writers and thinkers she has had the privilege of teaching.
“In addition to being a brilliant student, Caylee is a well-rounded individual and a natural leader,” Armstrong said in a letter of recommendation. “It is uncommon to find a high school-age individual who is such a dedicated athlete and musician, an exemplary leader and an outstanding student.”
Michela is still waiting to hear back from some schools before deciding which university she will attend this fall. She plans to study engineering and is interested in specializing in either biomedical or aerospace engineering.
Century High School senior Caylee Michela is this week's MDU Resources Teen of the Week.
NEW YORK — Documents with classified markings were discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana residence last week, his lawyer said, the latest in a string of recoveries of papers meant to be treated with utmost sensitivity from the homes of current and former top U.S. officials.
The records, which were taken into FBI custody, "appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration," Pence's lawyer, Greg Jacob, wrote in a letter to the National Archives shared with The Associated Press.
He said Pence was "unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence" until a search last week and "understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry."
The revelation came as the Department of Justice is already investigating the discovery of documents with classification markings in President Joe Biden's home in Delaware and his former Washington office, as well as former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
Democrat Biden has indicated he will seek reelection, Trump is already a declared candidate, and Republican Pence has been exploring a possible 2024 presidential campaign that would put him in direct competition against his former boss.
The newest discovery, which was first reported by CNN, thrusts Pence, who previously insisted that he followed stringent protocols regarding classified documents, into the debate over the handling of secret materials by officials who served in the highest ranks of government.
Trump is under criminal investigation after roughly 300 documents with classified markings, including at the top-secret level, were discovered at Mar-a-Lago. Officials are trying to determine whether Trump or anyone else should be charged with illegal possession of those records or with trying to obstruct the monthslong criminal investigation.
Biden is also subject to a special counsel investigation after classified documents from his time as a senator and in the Obama administration were found at his properties.
While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries. The presence of secret documents at all three men's homes further underscores the federal government's unwieldy system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces every year.
Pence's lawyer, Jacob, said in his letter that the former vice president had "engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents" to review records stored at his home on Jan. 16 "out of an abundance of caution" amid the uproar over the discovery of documents at Biden's home.
Jacob said the Pence documents with classification markings were secured in a locked safe. According to a follow-up letter from the lawyer dated Sunday, FBI agents visited Pence's residence Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. to collect the documents. Pence was in Washington for an event at the time.
Four boxes containing copies of administration papers — two in which "a small number" of papers bearing classified markings were found, and two containing "courtesy copies of vice presidential papers" — were discovered, according to the letter. Arrangements were made to deliver those boxes to the National Archives on Monday.
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discovery. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, and a lawyer for Pence did not immediately respond to an email seeking elaboration.
Pence told the Associated Press in August that he did not take any classified information with him when he left office.
In an interview this month with Fox Business, Pence described a "very formal process" used by his office to handle classified information as well as the steps taken by his lawyers to ensure none was taken with him.
On Capitol Hill, members of the Senate intelligence committee expressed incredulity over the mishandling of documents by top U.S. officials.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas noted that classified documents are only moved out of the committee's offices in locked bags. "In my book, it's never permissible to take classified documents outside of a secure facility or by some secure means of transport in between those secure facilities," he said.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, a Republican, said he planned to request a formal intelligence review and damage assessment.
"No one is above the law," added Republican Sen. Rick Scott, another potential 2024 candidate. "I don't know how anybody ends up with classified documents. … I mean, every classified document I've ever seen has a big 'Classified' on it."
WASHINGTON — In what would be a reversal, the Biden administration will approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, U.S. officials said Tuesday, as international reluctance to send tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode.
The decision could be announced as soon as Wednesday, though it could take months or years for the tanks to be delivered.
U.S. officials said details are still being worked out. One official said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
The U.S. announcement is expected in coordination with an announcement by Germany that it will approve Poland's request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to one official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
By agreeing to send the Abrams at an as-yet unspecified time under the assistance initiative, the administration is able to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's demand for an American commitment without having to send the tanks immediately.
Meanwhile, several senior Ukrainian officials, including front-line governors, lost their jobs Tuesday in a corruption scandal plaguing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government as it grapples with the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft, and the new allegations come as Western allies are channeling billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow.
Much of the aid so far in the 11-month-old war has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and to get Ukrainian forces trained on them.
It's unknown how many tanks would be approved.
Until now, the U.S. resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles.
Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the Abrams.
Just last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, difficult to maintain and hard to train on piece of equipment.
One thing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been very focused on, he said, "is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can't repair, they can't sustain, and that they, over the long term, can't afford, because it's not helpful."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said he had nothing to announce on any U.S. decision regarding Abrams tanks. But he said, "anytime that we've provided Ukraine with a type of system, we've provided the training and sustainment capabilities with that."
The administration's reversal comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defense officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine's war needs, and battle tanks were a prime topic.
Ukrainian leaders have been urgently requesting tanks, but Germany had resisted mounting pressure either to supply its own tanks or clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would trigger "unambiguously negative" consequences.
Defense leaders from the countries that have Leopard 2 tanks met with the Germans during the Friday conference at Ramstein Air Base in an effort to hammer out an agreement.
On Sunday, Berlin indicated it wouldn't stand in the way if other countries wanted to send the Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany needs to agree for the tanks to be given to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said Tuesday that Poland has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.
German officials declined to comment on the reports of a tank deal. The news weekly Der Spiegel reported Tuesday, without citing a source, that Germany will provide Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its own army's stock.
Scholz is due to deliver an address to parliament Wednesday and field questions from lawmakers, many of whom have been pressing the government to join allies in providing the tanks to Ukraine.
Lawmakers in Congress have also been pushing the U.S. to beef up its aid to Ukraine.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the Biden administration and allies should send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the U.S. must provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine "win this war."
"It's time, past time, for the Biden administration and our allies to get serious about helping Ukraine finish the job and retake their country."
The likely plans to send the Abrams were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.