The North Dakota Senate defeated legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation Friday, again turning down efforts to add LGBT protections to state law.
Senate Bill 2303 failed in a 20-27 vote. Grand Forks Democratic Sen. JoNell Bakke, the bill's primary sponsor, said it was meant to focus on prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment.
Bakke described her bill as a pared-down version of past efforts. She offered an amendment on the Senate floor that stripped out what she said was unnecessary language that caused some concerns during a committee hearing this week, but it failed.
The bill's proponents called it a matter of civil rights and argued adding sexual orientation to the list of protections that already cover race, sex, national origin and other factors would send a welcoming message to the LGBT community and prevent people from being fired from their job because of employer prejudices. They also cited the state's chronic workforce shortages.
"Do we really want to keep all homegrown North Dakotans here and open our arms to new ones, or don't we?" said Bismarck Democratic Sen. Erin Oban. "This is not a partisan issue. ... It's not an issue that requires political courage."
Opponents said they don't endorse discrimination, but were unconvinced the bill could prevent it and warned the legislation had "broader consequences."
Friday's vote marked the fifth time in the past 10 years that the Republican-led Legislature has rejected such a proposal. The Senate passed anti-discrimination bills in 2009 and 2015, but they failed in the House.
But this year's debate isn't over. The House will consider another anti-discrimination bill that doesn't cover gender identity.
Elizabeth Loos, legislative coordinator for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said they don't currently support the House bill but are working to "get gender identity included in some way."
But the House bill's primary sponsor, Fargo Republican Rep. Mary Johnson, said Friday she's not open to amendments because the existing "compromise" language has a better chance of passing.
Johnson's bill hasn't yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum didn't have a comment on the Senate bill's failure Friday. A spokesman deferred to previous statements in which the governor said "all North Dakotans deserve to be treated equally and live free of discrimination."