North Dakota House Passes Bill Blocking Gender Transition Procedures for Minors, Votes Down Another
Performing gender transition surgery on a minor would become a felony in North Dakota, and prescribing puberty blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones would become a misdemeanor under a bill (H.B. 1254) passed Friday by the state House in a 66-25 vote. The chamber also voted down (29-62) a bill (H.B. 1301) creating civil penalties for performing gender transition procedures on a minor.
H.B. 1254 would make any surgical procedure “for the purpose of changing or affirming the minor’s perception of the minor’s sex” a class B felony; it would also make it a class A misdemeanor for any health care provider to “prescribe, dispense, administer, or otherwise supply” puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones. A class B felony carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. A class A misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of 360 days in prison and/or a $3,000 fine.
H.B. 1301 would have forbidden health care professionals to “perform or offer to perform a medical procedure on a minor, or administer or offer to administer medication to a minor” to “enabl[e] a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex; or … treat purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.”
Whereas H.B. 1254 contains criminal penalties, H.B. 1301 contained civil penalties. It allowed the minor or the minor’s parent to “bring a civil cause of action to recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, and expenses” against the health care provider, the medical facility, or the “Minor’s parent if the parent of the minor consented” to the gender transition procedure. Additionally, it provided a public right of action whereby the attorney general may “recover a civil penalty” of $25,000 per surgical violation, and $20,000 per medical violation. The bill also authorized “the appropriate regulatory authority” — a licensing board, that is — to “proceed with appropriate disciplinary action.”
“I think it’s important to have both of those options for the child to get justice,” North Dakota Representative Brandon Prichard (R), who sponsored both bills, told The Washington Stand. He explained that North Dakota law contains both criminal and civil penalties for other offenses, including murder.
The Human Services Committee voted out both bills with a “Do Pass” recommendation on Thursday, but H.B. 1254 enjoyed substantially broader support than H.B. 1301. The vote for H.B. 1254 was 12-2, a party-line vote, while the vote for H.B. 1301 was 8-6, the smallest possible majority.
All 11 Democrats in the North Dakota House voted “no” on H.B. 1254, but they were joined by a greater number of Republicans — 14, to be exact. Republicans hold an 83-11 majority (88%) in the state House and a 43-4 majority (91%) in the state Senate. Still, despite these defections, H.B. 1254 earned 70% of House votes, a veto-proof majority.
Prichard hypothesized that H.B. 1301’s weaker support was due to confusion over the difference between criminal and civil penalties, as well as opposition to the provision allowing minors to sue their parents for consenting to a gender transition procedure. However, Prichard said that laws on the books already allow minors to sue their parents in other contexts.
The North Dakota House joins a growing list of state legislative chambers acting to protect minors from gender transition procedures, a new front of the culture wars that aggressive transgender activists have opened in the past few years. State legislatures have previously passed bills in Arkansas and Alabama, but those are currently blocked by court proceedings. Already this year, two states have passed laws protecting minors from gender transition — a bill with moderate protections in Utah as well as one with much more robust protections in neighboring South Dakota. As of last week, at least 93 other versions of the bill are moving in state legislatures, according to Travis Weber, FRC’s vice president of Policy and Government Affairs. Legislatures in Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee are actively moving such bills.
H.B. 1254 will now proceed to the North Dakota Senate. The North Dakota legislature has a “crossover date,” where bills passed by the House will move to the Senate, and bills passed by the Senate will move to the House. North Dakota’s 2023 crossover date is February 26. The Senate process for H.B. 1254 will be similar to that conducted in the House: first the Senate will hold a hearing with public testimony, next the committee will consider amendments and vote on whether to recommend the bill, and finally the full chamber will vote.
Prichard said that the bill will receive a vote in the full Senate chamber, whether or not the committee recommends its passage. “North Dakota’s the only state where there’s no such thing as dying in committee,” he said, but where every bill will receive a vote.
If passed by the Senate, H.B. 1254 would head to the desk of North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R). Prichard said there is “a good chance” the governor would veto the bill. Burgum vetoed a women’s sports bill in 2021, and a veto override effort came up four votes short (of the necessary two-thirds majority) in the state Senate. When asked for comment on H.B. 1254, the governor’s office told The Washington Stand that “the governor generally does not comment on legislation before it reaches his desk.”
“It’s important to have the votes from the beginning to override the veto,” said Prichard.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.