James Kerian, Grafton, N.D., letter: Senate embarrasses itself and North DakotaIt is clear that with its handling of this bill, the Senate has embarrassed itself, the Legislature and the state.
By: James Kerian,
GRAFTON, N.D. — On April 7, the Defense of Human Life Act, HB 1450, was brought to the floor of the North Dakota Senate. The underhanded chicanery that followed made up perhaps the most embarrassing episode in the history of the Legislature.
HB 1450 would have banned abortion by extending equal protection under the law for all human beings in this state, including the unborn. The bill passed overwhelmingly (68-25) in the House, and it was said to have solid majority support in the Senate once the judiciary committee had clarified that neither lifesaving medical treatment nor in-vitro fertilization would be prohibited.
Because they lacked the votes to defeat the bill after an open debate and a recorded roll call vote, the opponents of HB 1450 resorted to what the Associated Press has called a “procedural gambit.” During debate over whether the bill should include an exemption for rape/incest, Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, succeeded in tabling (killing) this exemption in an unrecorded vote while several senators were unaware that tabling the exemption would, by the rules of the senate, table the entire bill.
Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, wrote that he and a number of other senators were “tricked” by this “parliamentary maneuver.” Olafson defended his maneuver telling reporters “this shouldn’t be an issue that is put on the record.”
Some senators tried to reconsider the bill, but a 2/3 majority is required to do so once a bill has been tabled; and while the bill still had majority support (26-21), it was not able to reach the 2/3 threshold.
Inexplicably, several members of the Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, voted against this measure to reconsider the bill.
It is difficult to be certain whether this inability of the senate to hold a debate and vote on HB 1450 was due to a level of incompetence that one might expect from the Three Stooges or a level of dishonesty that one might expect from the Chicago political machine. Either way, it is clear that with its handling of this bill, the Senate has embarrassed itself, the Legislature and the state.