Minnesota, North Dakota lawmakers head in opposite directions on hot topics
Some bills before the Minnesota and North Dakota legislatures appear to be exact opposites of each other, with one state tightening laws as the other loosens them.
FARGO — When the Minnesota and North Dakota legislatures concurrently convene every other year, contrasting legislation is expected in the states with divergent political leanings.
This year, with North Dakota's House and Senate both dominated by Republicans and both of Minnesota's chambers having a majority of Democrats, the difference between the two states seems even more stark.
In fact, some bills seem to be pulling the states in opposite directions.
In Minnesota, lawmakers are looking to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a risk to the public. Proposals there include a "red flag" bill under SF 1187; several bills calling for expanded background checks for firearm sales under HF 577, HF 14, SF 1186, SF 1184, SF 1175, SF 1116 and SF 631; safe storage regulation under HF 396 and SF 0916; and reporting requirements for lost or stolen guns under SF 606 and HF 601.
There are a handful of bills in the Minnesota Legislature aiming to loosen gun restrictions, with proposals in the House and Senate calling for no permit requirement to carry a firearm in a public place. But with both chambers under Democratic control, those bills face a steep road to passing.
At the same time, North Dakota legislators are looking to expand gun rights. Proposals would permit guns in public buildings and bars under House Bill 1483; expand concealed carry rights under House bills 1404, 1194, 1341 and 1339; and bar local governments from adopting "red flag" laws under House Bill 1401.
Another North Dakota bill would strip local governments of the authority to enact zoning rules related to gun sales, effectively repealing a municipal law in Fargo. House Bill 1340 received a "do not pass" recommendation from the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
While the Minnesota Legislature fast-tracked a law protecting access to abortion and reproductive health care, the North Dakota Legislature is looking to amend and update the state's pending law that would ban abortion.
On Jan. 31, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the Protect Reproductive Options Act into law. The PRO Act includes statewide abortion protections and prevents local governments from passing regulations on birth control or abortion.
Proposed revisions to North Dakota's abortion law under Senate Bill 2150 would change "affirmative defenses" to "exceptions," taking the legal burden off medical providers who perform abortions in cases of ectopic pregnancies or before six weeks gestation in cases of rape and incest.
Many women do not know they are pregnant before six weeks, but the changes to the law would not extend that time frame.
The states also seem to be moving in opposite directions when it comes to funding "crisis pregnancy centers" or organizations that promote alternatives to abortion.
Senate Bill 2129 in North Dakota would provide funding through the state's Health and Human Services Department for private businesses that "promote childbirth instead of abortion," including faith-based organizations.
A bill in Minnesota is looking to expand eligibility for funding offered to the same types of organizations. HF 289 proposes allowing funds for organizations that discuss abortion with patients, in addition to other pregnancy options.
After quietly legalizing THC edibles in a health bill last session, Minnesota legislators are eyeing full legalization of recreational marijuana in the state. Under HF 100, anyone 21 and older could legally possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis in a public place and 5 pounds or less in a home.
It would also be legal to possess up to eight plants, and employer testing would become illegal.
On Jan. 31, the North Dakota House rejected two bills to legalize medical marijuana edibles, and a ballot measure to legalize recreational pot failed in the November election.
Gay and transgender legislation
Bills in the neighboring legislatures surrounding transgender residents and conversion therapy, a practice that aims to change a person's gender identity or sexual orientation, are at odds with each other.
In North Dakota, House Bill 1332 would expand the types of therapy social workers can offer to patients, including conversion therapy. It would reverse an existing ban on that treatment.
In Minnesota, HF 16 would ban conversion therapy for children and vulnerable adults. Cities including Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester already have bans in place.
Companion bills SF 63 and HF 146 in the Minnesota Legislature aim to protect parents of transgender children from laws in other states that call for children to be removed from parents who allow them to receive gender-affirming health care.
House Bill 1301 would prohibit providers in North Dakota from providing gender-affirming care altogether. A slew of other bills introduced in the state would restrict health care, activities and personal expression for transgender people.
A bill passed by both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature has put the state so at odds with its neighbor that North Dakota is threatening to sue.
HF 7, which Walz signed into law Tuesday, Feb. 7, requires 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 in Minnesota. Utilities will have to reach 80% renewable generation by 2030.
North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley confirmed the state is considering legal strategies to address the bill. Minnesota is a major customer for North Dakota's coal, natural gas and oil.
If the issue goes to court, it would not be the first time the states had a legal battle over energy. North Dakota successfully sued Minnesota over a 2007 law banning importing coal power. In that case, a judge found Minnesota violated the U.S. Constitution by regulating commerce in North Dakota.
Despite the many issues that have the neighboring state legislatures moving in opposite directions, there are some bills pushing for the same outcomes on both sides of the Red River. In those cases, more legislators are breaking from party lines to address the state's needs.
Lawmakers in both North Dakota and Minnesota have proposed programs that would fund lunches for all public school students.
In North Dakota, House Bill 1491 would provide free lunches to all public school students for two years.
In Minnesota, HF 5 and SF 123 would provide free breakfast and lunch for all students in the federal school meals program in perpetuity.
Both states are also looking to address the ongoing child care crisis. The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to expand funding for child care stabilization grants under HF 150 and SF 53, and the North Dakota Legislature is looking to establish the same type of program under Senate Bill 2301.
The bills to address the child care worker shortage and offer free lunches have bipartisan co-sponsors in North Dakota, and the lunch bills in Minnesota have also garnered support from both sides of the aisle.
Forum News Service reporters Alex Derosier and Jeremy Turley and Bismarck Tribune reporter Jack Dura contributed to this report.