5 things to know today: Pronoun bill, Higher limit, Tax trigger, COVID outbreak, Tobacco restriction
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. North Dakota bill targeting transgender students’ pronouns goes to Gov. Burgum's desk
A bill to restrict how North Dakota’s public schools treat transgender students will be the first test of Gov. Doug Burgum’s appetite for socially conservative legislation aimed at gender issues.
The Republican-led North Dakota House of Representatives voted 60-32 on Wednesday, March 22, to approve Senate Bill 2231, which would bar school districts and their governing boards from creating policies to accommodate transgender students unless parents give explicit permission.
The proposal sponsored by Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, at the request of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, 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 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.
Supporters say the legislation supports teachers who are caught in the crossfire of a national debate on pronouns. Opponents contend the legislation discriminates against transgender youth, who are already at risk of mental health issues.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
2. Bill for 80 mph speed limit zips to North Dakota governor's desk
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
North Dakota motorists could legally travel the state's interstate highways at 80 mph under a bill headed to Gov. Doug Burgum.
The state Senate on Wednesday passed House Bill 1475 by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, in a 25-21 vote. The state House of Representatives last month passed it 65-29.
The bill would raise the interstate highway speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph. There are two interstates in North Dakota -- I-94 running east and west across the south, including through Bismarck-Mandan, and I-29 running north and south through the eastern Red River Valley.
Supporters have said the bill would save motorists time and reduce their likelihood of being pulled over. Opponents have said higher speeds will increase traffic fatalities.
Koppelman told the House last month that the state Department of Transportation would retain the ability to adjust the speed limit in areas of concern, such as curves and the scenic Badlands section near Medora, and could work with cities to determine the speed limit where interstates go through urban areas and the highway speeds are reduced. Koppelman has unsuccessfully proposed the bill three other times.
3. North Dakota lawmakers vote to end tax triggered by high oil prices
Oil companies fetching high prices for their product will likely see a reduced tax rate in North Dakota after lawmakers gave a green light to legislation backed by the powerful petroleum industry.
The Republican-led state Senate voted 36-10 on Wednesday, March 22, to pass House Bill 1286, which would abolish a requirement that oil producers pay a heftier tax rate when the commodity’s price hits high levels. The House of Representatives approved the proposal last month.
The proposal sponsored by Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, makes an exception for oil wells that touch the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation's Fort Berthold Reservation.
Proponents of Headland's bill say cutting the oil tax trigger will encourage more investment in the Bakken oil field while creating fairness in the state's tax code. Critics say the extra tax revenue brought in when oil prices surge could fund important projects and programs.
Gov. Doug Burgum has previously indicated he would sign a bill to dispose of the so-called oil tax trigger, which he referred to as an “excess profits tax on companies that are investing greatly in our industry.”
The Legislature originally approved the trigger in 2015 as part of larger tax reforms that cut the overall extraction tax from 6.5% to 5%. As a compromise with the industry, policymakers agreed that sustained high oil prices, determined by a formula, would trigger a 6% extraction tax.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
4. COVID outbreak spawns over 90 cases at Eventide care center in Moorhead
An outbreak of COVID-19 at Eventide care center in Moorhead has made dozens ill and has led to three deaths.
The first case was identified on March 8, and Eventide management tallied 70 residents and 22 employees infected with COVID-19. By early next week, however, 30 residents will have recovered.
The majority of residents are experiencing mild symptoms, according to Carrie Carney, vice president of marketing and communications.
Eventide management has also made the public aware of the situation on Facebook and on their website.
“While we are far from the crisis and panic that were so prevalent at that time, COVID-19 has not gone away. Since the vaccine became available, we continue to experience sporadic outbreaks at our locations. Including now, at our Eventide on Eighth care center in Moorhead, which is experiencing a significant outbreak at this time,” Eventide management reported on Facebook and on its website .
The source of the outbreak was traced to an asymptomatic visitor and an asymptomatic staff member, Carney said in an email.
“We are following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facility and performing additional testing,” Carney said.
Read more from The Forum's C.S. Hagen
5. Could Minnesota ban menthols and wintergreen chew? Lawmakers weigh flavored tobacco restrictions
All sales of products like menthol cigarettes, wintergreen chewing tobacco and flavored vape liquids would be banned in Minnesota under a bill currently moving through the state Legislature.
Many communities across Minnesota have already limited the sale of flavored tobacco products, but only a few have banned them outright, including Moorhead, Bloomington and Edina. Cities like Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth have restricted sales to adult-only stores.
Ban supporters told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month that flavored tobacco products appeal to children and offer a gateway into nicotine addiction by providing a more palatable alternative. They also argued that menthol cigarettes are aggressively marketed to the Black community, contributing to higher rates of tobacco-related disease and death.
“Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored tobacco products is an important public health and racial justice issue that will save lives, reduce health disparities and protect kids,” said Sylvia Amos, the executive director of the Stairstep Foundation, a Black community activist group. “It is imperative that we care about every life, but especially the most vulnerable and most underrepresented lives.”
Public health research has found that menthol cigarettes make it easier to start smoking and much harder to quit. The overwhelming majority of Black smokers, 85%, report smoking menthols, versus just 29% of white smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.