ND Senate overrides Burgum veto on controversial pronouns

Within hours of Gov. Doug Burgum’s veto of legislation standardizing the use of pronouns in schools and government, the North Dakota Senate overwhelmingly voted to override the governor’s action. The legislation aims to protect teachers and government employees from becoming embroiled in the controversy over “preferred pronouns” for transgender students and bars schools from implementing policies for transgender students without parental permission.

Forum News ticked off the list of reasons Burgum gave for issuing his veto, including the possibility of schools getting bogged down lawsuits challenging the measure.

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.”

But supporters maintain the legislation provides a framework for schools, students and parents to avoid getting sidetracked on divisive issues, keeping the focus on academics.

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.

The standoff between Burgum and legislators now turns to the House, where the governor stands a better chance of prevailing.

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.

Much more may be riding on the outcome than preferred pronouns given related legislation in the pipeline.

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.