Transgender, library, child care bills move in North Dakota
North Dakota House lawmakers passed three bills Friday that would restrict transgender people’s access to bathrooms, remove sexually explicit materials from the children’s section of libraries, and expand child care assistance in the hopes of combating the state’s workforce shortage.
The trans bill and sexual materials bill passed the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, so the bills could become law without Republican Gov. Doug Burgum’s approval.
The child care bill passed after heated debate in the House and without a veto-proof majority. It still requires approval from the Senate and governor to become law.
The legislation would limit access to bathrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms for transgender and gender-nonconforming people in several state facilities. That includes dorms and living facilities controlled by the state board of higher education, penitentiaries and correctional facilities for youths and adults.
Restrooms and shower rooms at these facilities would be designated for use exclusively for males or exclusively for females, according to the bill. Transgender or gender-nonconforming people would need to get approval from a staff member at the facility to use the restroom or shower room of their choice.
House lawmakers did not debate the bill. It passed with a 78-14 vote.
Three Republicans — Reps. Eric James Murphy of Grand Forks, David Richter of Williston, and Cynthia Schreiber-Beck of Wahpeton — defied their party and voted against the bill. In the other direction, Democratic Rep. Corey Mock, of Grand Forks, was the only person in his party to vote in support of the bill.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said that so far this year, more than 450 bills attacking the rights of transgender people have been introduced in state legislatures.
SEXUAL MATERIALS BILL
Public libraries would be prohibited from keeping sexually explicit material — which is defined as being “patently offensive” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors” — in the children’s section, under this bill.
A librarian or anyone else who knowingly violates the rule could be charged with a felony, said Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin, of Bismarck, speaking on the House floor before voting in support of the bill. The felony comes with up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Following minimal discussion, the bill passed with a 70-22 vote. All 12 Democrats voted against it, along with 10 Republicans.
Attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries have surged across the country, setting a record in 2022, according to the American Library Association last month.
CHILD CARE BILL
Following heated debate, House lawmakers passed a bill that would expand child care assistance for parents in the state.
Supporters said the bill would help the state combat its workforce shortage, whereas opponents said it would cost too much without the guarantee of bringing in more workers.
The program would cost $65.6 million — which is “significantly less” than the other child care proposals lawmakers heard — and it would help thousands of children, said Republican Rep. Emily O’Brien, of Grand Forks, while speaking in support of the bill on the House floor.
Democratic Rep. Alisa Mitskog, of Wahpeton, added that New Mexico — a competing oil-producing state — has already invested in child care assistance to attract workers.
But opponents said the program would be a waste of money from the state’s general fund. “It’s also a very leftist, socialist idea,” Republican Rep. Jeff Hoverson, of Minot, said.
The bill passed with a 62-29 vote, with all 12 Democrats voting in support along with 50 Republicans.
Burgum, the second-term Republican governor and a staunch supporter of child care investments, said last year that the lack of affordable child care in North Dakota contributes to workforce shortages that have hurt the state’s economy. Adequate and affordable child care would help attract and retain companies in the state, he added.
Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15