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City Council members discuss potential hate crimes ordinances for Grand Forks

The local ordinances would be similar to the ordinance Fargo enacted last summer.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – A first draft for a series of proposed hate crimes ordinances was discussed by members of the Grand Forks City Council during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Council member Katie Dachtler, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, High Plains Fair Housing and Grand Forks Police Officer Brian Samson drafted the ordinances, with the first draft being emailed to Mayor Brandon Bochenski, City Attorney Dan Gaustad and City Administrator Todd Feland on Jan. 24.

The four ordinances include hate crimes related to criminal mischief, harassment, terrorizing and simple assault. The intent would be to criminalize acts of violence against “the most vulnerable in our communities as well as act as a strong deterrent to those who would act on such biases,” Dachtler said in an email to city leaders.

Anyone who violates these ordinances, if they’re passed, would be subject to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine up to $1,500.

Gaustad forwarded the first draft to city prosecutor Kristi Pettit Venhuizen on Jan. 25, seeking her opinion of the draft ordinances, the language that should be used if the city were to adopt hate them and whether hate crime ordinances would be pursued by the prosecutor’s office.

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Pettit Venhuizen’s comments, which were shared with council members, pointed out that with all four ordinances, a prosecutor wouldn’t pursue a hate crime unless it’s “pretty obvious” that it’s a hate crime. Further, proof sometimes is difficult to determine.

With this comes the risk of an offender being found not guilty. However, it was mentioned by attorney Joseph Quinn that if the city has separate ordinances related to hate crimes and non-hate crimes, it could allow prosecutors to have two ordinances to work with.

At present, the city doesn’t have ordinances for criminal mischief and harassment. Council members discussed the possibility that the city could pass ordinances for criminal mischief and harassment so there would be a hate crime and non-hate crime ordinance in place.

There also were questions of how often the ordinance would be used, since prosecutors would need proof of a hate element. Fargo, which is the only city in North Dakota to have a similar hate crimes ordinance in place after being passed last June, only recently had its first hate crime case, which was filed last week.

Grand Forks City Council member Kyle Kvamme on Monday told council members they should still move forward with the ordinance, even if it's not used.

“Worst-case scenario, we’re passing city code that doesn’t ever get used hopefully,” Kvamme said. “It just seems like if we give people another tool to use or not to use that doesn’t seem like it’s that bad of a thing to do.”

The alternative to the proposed hate crimes ordinance would be for the city to enact a hate crime enhancement to a present city code, specifically one that calls for penalties for criminal offense for crimes committed in whole, or in part, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion,gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or ancestry of the victim.

During Monday’s meeting, Dachtler said one of her concerns regarding the hate crime enhancement was that offenders would need to be in possession of a weapon; if they didn’t use a weapon, the crime wouldn’t rise to the definition of a hate crime.

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Pettit Venhuizen also recommended that the city not pursue the terrorizing ordinance as it is a Class C felony under state law. The city is limited to offenses of Class B misdemeanors and lower. Dachtler made the suggestion of removing the terrorizing ordinance from the draft.

Although the Committee of the Whole is made up of members of City Council, the committee does not make final decisions, instead leaving that for official council meetings.

Council members voted to continue discussing a revision of the hate crimes ordinance draft at future council meetings.

Also Monday, the Committee of the Whole heard a request to approve an expanded scope of work — with the firm KLJ — on an environmental study at the site of a proposed underpass near the corner of 42nd Street and DeMers Avenue. At that location is a railroad crossing that historically has caused traffic delays, and the council has for years been considering the idea of creating an underpass under the rails to ease congestion. The cost of the expanded scope is $200,077.

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS CITY COUNCIL
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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