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The North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Photo illustration by Troy Becker

North Dakota Capitol notebook: Hearing set for second anti-discrimination bill

BISMARCK — A North Dakota House committee will consider the session’s second sexual orientation anti-discrimination bill Monday, Feb. 11.

The hearing on House Bill 1441, championed by Fargo Republican Rep. Mary Johnson, will be held at 9 a.m. in a large meeting room at the state Capitol. It will come more than two weeks after the Senate rejected a similar measure.

The House bill has attracted criticisms for its exclusion of transgender people from the new protections. Johnson said her bill, which mirrors legislation that failed in 2017 except for the gender identity provisions, is meant as a compromise in a Republican-led Legislature that has repeatedly shot down similar proposals in recent sessions.

Johnson’s bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in several areas, including housing, employment and public accommodations. State law already includes protections for race, religion, sex, national origin, age and other factors.

Media lobbyist seeks to narrow records bill

A lobbyist representing North Dakota media organizations asked a Senate committee Friday to narrow a proposal shielding lawmakers’ communications with public employees.

West Fargo Republican Sen. Judy Lee said her bill is meant to clarify what was already understood to be the case: that correspondence between legislators and state agencies aren’t subject to the state’s open records laws. She said those conversations could involve constituent issues.

“I think it’s important that not all of that conversation that’s done electronically be available for open records,” she said. “We’re not trying to interfere with the very strong sunshine laws in North Dakota.”

Jack McDonald, who represents newspaper and broadcaster groups in the state, asked lawmakers to narrow the records protections to communications involving litigation, legislation or liability. He warned the original bill would make the state’s transparency laws “a bit more opaque.”

Annual session bills rejected

The North Dakota House has killed two bills calling for annual legislative sessions.

Both bills were championed by Fargo Democratic Rep. Karla Rose Hanson. One would have allowed the Legislature to meet for up to 75 days in odd-numbered years and for at least three days in even-numbered years, and the other would have limited sessions in odd-numbered years to 65 days with the rest saved for even-numbered years.

The state constitution allows lawmakers to meet in regular session for up to 80 days every two years. North Dakota is just one of four states to hold a regular legislative session every other year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A Senate bill seeking annual sessions is still alive. Proponents of the change have argued it would allow lawmakers to be more responsive to budget and policy issues.

Gov. Doug Burgum told reporters on Thursday that there are merits to the Legislature’s current setup.

Committee to reopen hearing on data privacy

A House committee will reopen a hearing on a major data privacy bill Tuesday morning.

The bill would allow consumers to request companies like Google and Facebook to delete and stop collecting their personal data, as well as require companies to provide information about data they’ve collected.

Lobbyists representing information technology and wireless communications industries, who opposed the bill, said Wednesday they didn’t have time to review a sweeping amendment introduced by its sponsor, Fargo Republican Rep. Jim Kasper.

Higher ed restructuring gets negative review

A House committee has given an unfavorable recommendation to a bill seeking to split North Dakota's higher education system into two boards.

House Bill 1500 is the product of a task force convened by Burgum to examine reforms to the state's higher education governance. It's expected to be debated on the House floor in the coming days after the chamber's Education Committee gave it a "do not pass" recommendation.

House kills gas tax hike

The North Dakota House killed a 7-cent hike in gas taxes Wednesday, days after the Senate rejected a smaller increase.

House Bill 1301, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, failed in a 77-15 vote. It also adjusted allocation percentages used in the highway tax distribution formula and called for a study on center rumble strips.

Proponents of a gas tax increase have urged lawmakers to address road funding needs. The House bill would have raised an estimated $34.7 million in the next two-year funding cycle.

Hearing on expanding corporate farms to second cousins

The House Agriculture Committee will consider a bill Friday expanding the kinship requirement of the state's anti-corporate farming law to include second cousins.

North Dakota’s Depression-era statute prevents corporations and limited liability companies from owning or leasing farm or ranch land and from “engaging in the business of farming or ranching,” with some exceptions. House Bill 1388, pushed by Hillsboro Republican Rep. Aaron McWilliams, would expand requirements that shareholders or members be related to each other to include second cousins.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne said in a letter to the editor that the bill would weaken the anti-corporate farming law.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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