BISMARCK — A bicameral committee of North Dakota lawmakers rekindled the state's transgender athlete bill Monday, April 12, after the proposal was gutted earlier this session.
A six-member conference committee introduced an amendment to House Bill 1298 on Monday that would reconstruct the bill's restriction on K-12 transgender students in North Dakota by barring schools from allowing transgender athletes to compete under their identifying gender. The amendment also recommends an optional legislative study into the effects of instituting this restriction policy.
The amendment received a 4-2 "do pass" recommendation, with all Republicans on the committee voting in favor and Democrats voting against.
The amended policy is more narrow than the version of the bill that cleared the House earlier this session, which applied to collegiate sports and state-sponsored events and venues.
Monday's move comes two weeks after the transgender athlete bill was substantially diluted in an eleventh-hour change on the Senate floor by turning it into a study, a tactic often used by lawmakers to nullify the effects of legislation.
The two Democrats on the committee, Sen. JoNell Bakke of Grand Forks and Rep. Mary Schneider of Fargo, argued that passing the restrictive language would have damaging mental health effects for transgender and LGBTQ North Dakotans, while all but guaranteeing lawsuits and penalties from corporations.
The version of the bill passed out of the Senate "gives us a second chance to step back and look at the ramifications of this bill before we hurt anyone by it," Schneider said.
But backers of the restriction have argued for it as important policy to ensure fairness in girls sports, and have often rejected claims that passing the legislation could have damaging economic consequences for the state.
Sen. Michael Dwyer, R-Bismarck, noted the recent decision by Major League Baseball to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to a new voting law but said lawmakers shouldn't allow anxieties over private company actions to dictate their policy decisions.
"To me, it's the elected policymakers who have to make good policy for their states," he said.
The study included in the amendment recommends that the Legislature examine the effects of enacting the restriction policy. But its provisions are less specific than the study in the current bill, which outlines a study of the legal, economic and mental health effects of the policy. Dwyer said he would like the study to look at the effects of cross-sex surgeries and hormone therapy.
The amendment still needs full House and Senate approval to be incorporated into the bill. If one chamber rejects the amendment, the bill will return to the bicameral conference committee to keep hashing out differences between the two legislative bodies.
Committee members Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, Rep. Kathy Skroch, R-Lidgerwood, Rep. Karen Rohr, R-Mandan, and Dwyer voted in favor of the amendment. Bakke and Schneider voted against.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he thinks the version of the bill that came out of conference committee Monday will have the numbers to pass the Senate.
Jeremy Turley contributed reporting to this story. Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.