North Dakota Senate overrides veto on bill targeting transgender students’ pronouns; House yet to vote

Senate Bill 2231 would bar school districts and their governing boards from creating policies to accommodate transgender students unless parents give explicit permission.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum delivers a budget address to lawmakers on Dec. 7, 2022, in the state House of Representatives.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate has voted to override Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a bill that would restrict how the state's public schools treat transgender students.

Burgum, a Republican, announced his veto of Senate Bill 2231 on Thursday morning, March 30, citing the unnecessary burden it would place on teachers and school boards. The Senate's 37-9 vote to override the veto came about 10 hours later.

To become law, the bill would now need at least a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Representatives. A House vote on the bill last week came in three votes shy of the two-thirds threshold. Assistant House Majority Leader Glenn Bosch, R-Bismarck, said Thursday night he did not know if or when the House may vote to override the veto.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, at the request of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, would bar school districts and their governing boards from creating policies to accommodate transgender students unless parents give explicit permission.

Denounced by LGBTQ advocates, the legislation says public school teachers cannot be required to use a student’s pronoun if it doesn’t align with their sex at birth. A teacher would be allowed to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun but only if the child’s parents and a school administrator give their blessing.


Schools would be prohibited from providing classroom instruction that recognizes the concept that gender identity can differ from sex at birth.

North Dakota Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, speaks on the Senate floor in the state Capitol on Feb. 10, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The bill also states that public agencies and other government entities can’t require employees to use a transgender colleague’s preferred pronoun in work-related communications.

Burgum said in a veto letter that the section of the bill governing schools "infringes on local control by unnecessarily injecting the state into rare instances most appropriately handled at the parent, teacher and school district level."

The Republican governor noted that the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment already "prohibits compelled speech and protects teachers from speaking contrary to their beliefs."

"Ambiguity throughout this bill would invite lawsuits and put teachers in the precarious position of trying to determine how to refer to students without violating law," Burgum said in the veto letter. "The teaching profession is challenging enough without the heavy hand of state government forcing teachers to take on the role of pronoun police. Parents, teachers and administrators using compassion, empathy and common sense can address individual and infrequent situations that may arise."

"North Dakota will continue to stand for free speech, local control and freedom from discrimination," Burgum added.

Luick's proposal was the first in what will likely be a series of bills targeting gender issues to cross Burgum's desk. Conservative lawmakers still are considering about a dozen other proposals that would restrict health care, activities and personal expression for transgender residents.

Supporters of Luick's bill say it would protect teachers and public employees who are caught in the crossfire of a national debate on pronouns.


Christopher Dodson, director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said Burgum's veto "disregards the rights of parents," noting that the bill would have prevented schools from keeping parents in the dark about their child's gender identity.

LGBTQ advocates and mental health professionals fought against the bill, contending that it singles out transgender youth, who are already at risk of mental health issues.

Cody Schuler, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded Burgum's rejection of the "discriminatory" bill.

"Trans youth thrive when they are affirmed in their gender identity, which includes being called by a name and pronouns that reflect who they are," Schuler said.

It’s not the first time the legislative and executive branches have clashed over bills aimed at restricting transgender children.

In 2021, Burgum vetoed a bill to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in K-12 sports. Conservative lawmakers narrowly failed to override the governor’s rejection.

The Senate vote to override Burgum's veto

YES: Barta, Beard, Bekkedahl, Boehm, Burckhard, Clemens, Conley, Davison, Dever, Dwyer, Elkin, Erbele, Estenson, Hogue, Kannianen, Kessel, Klein, Kreun, Larsen, Larson, Lemm, Luick, Magrum, Meyer, Myrdal, Patten, Paulson, J. Roers, Rust, Schaible, Sickler, Sorvaag, Vedaa, Wanzek, Weber, Weston and Wobbema.

NO: Axtman, Braunberger, Cleary, Hogan, Krebsbach, Lee, Mathern, Piepkorn and Rummel.


ABSENT: K. Roers

Three Republican senators — Jeff Barta, Kyle Davison and Mark Weber — voted for the bill Thursday after opposing it in January. Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, voted against the bill Thursday after initially supporting it in January.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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