A (mostly) Successful Legislative Session
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
The 2023 regular session of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly concluded on April 30. Legislators considered 932 bills and 56 resolutions. The North Dakota Catholic Conference followed around 108 of them. About twenty-five of those bills became priorities for the conference.
How did the legislature and the Governor do when it came to issues of concern to the Catholic Church? By most standards, it was a successful session.
Legislature Passes School Choice — Governor Vetoes It
Let us start with the bad news. For the first time in the state’s history, both legislative chambers passed a true school choice bill. House Bill 1532 was a modest start, but a start nevertheless. Governor Burgum, however, vetoed the bill, claiming that it did not go far enough. We hope the Governor will work with all parties to create a bill for the next session that he will sign.
Legislature Responds with Love
In December of last year, the state’s bishops proposed a package of legislation to help pregnant women and children. They called it Responding with Love. The legislature passed — and the Governor signed — every proposal. The new laws include:
- An adoption tax credit;
- A tax credit for contributions to a maternity home, child placing agency, or pregnancy help center;
- A sales tax exemption for child diapers;
- Reimbursements to adoption agencies for the costs of conducting home study reports;
- Expanding worker protections for pregnant women;
- Creation of a state website of resources for pregnant women and new mothers;
- A significant expansion of the Alternatives to Abortion program;
- Expanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) coverage for pregnant to all stages of pregnancy;
- Eliminating the “family cap” in TANF that denied assistance for a child conceived while the mother was receiving assistance for an older sibling.
- Medicaid coverage for pregnant women for twelves months after birth;
- Expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women who are legal immigrants; and
- Raising the Medicaid eligibility level for pregnant women.
The enactment of these laws represents a significant commitment to building a sanctuary for life in North Dakota. Hopefully, more pro-woman, pro-family, and pro-life policies and practices will follow in our communities and businesses.
The legislature revised and strengthened the state’s prohibitions on abortion. Unless a court intervenes before you read this, unborn children are protected from abortion in North Dakota in almost every circumstance. North Dakota is practically abortion-free. The legislature also made it a crime to force a woman to have an abortion.
North Dakotans now have greater protection for religious freedom with the passage of House Bill 1136. The law gives religious freedom the highest level of protection without interfering with legitimate government interests. In a separate bill, the North Dakota Catholic Conference successfully ensured that the final remains of indigent persons can be disposed of in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.
Some Truths About the "Gender" Bills
Based on media reports, people might think that the legislature spent all its time on bills relating to gender issues. There were, in fact, multiple bills on gender issues, and some of them addressed the same topics. The claims that the bills consumed too many of the session’s days, however, are exaggerated.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference supported only some of the bills. As in the past, it supported legislation to protect fairness in sports for K-12 schools by requiring sex-designated teams to be based on biological sex. It also supported protecting minors from “gender transitioning” medical interventions.
When it came to the other issues concerning gender, the bishops had two basic principles going into the session. First, protect the rights of public employees. Second, protect the rights of parents with children in public schools. These protections were included in Senate Bill 2231, which the Governor vetoed. The legislature, however, rewrote the protections and included them in House Bill 1522, which the Governor signed.
Almost immediately, columnists, gender ideologists, and even a school superintendent misrepresented House Bill 1522. Here are the facts. Regarding public school teachers, the bill only prevents them from being forced by the school to use a preferred gender pronoun. Concerning parents, the bill prohibits the school from withholding or concealing a student’s transgender status from parents. It does not force the school to reveal the student’s transgender status. Moreover, if any other law, such as a federal law or a law protecting the student’s safety applies, the provisions of House Bill 1522 do not apply.
Opponents of the law claim that children with gender identity issues are more likely to suffer from depression, engage in self-harm, and attempt suicide. Assuming that is true, why should a school be allowed to intentionally hide those risk factors from the student’s parents?
Contrary to popular claims, the gender-related bills supported by the conference were not motivated by hate. The opposite is true. The conference supported these bills to protect children, protect parents, and secure the basic free speech rights of public employees.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference engaged in many other bills. All the written testimony given by the conference is on the website at ndcatholic.org. Video of non-written testimony is on the website of the legislature at video.ndlegis.gov.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.