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Published June 18, 2013, 08:45 AM

Grand Forks enhances discrimination safeguards

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Grand Forks has become the first city in North Dakota to protect city employees and city job applicants from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Grand Forks has become the first city in North Dakota to protect city employees and city job applicants from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The City Council voted Monday night to add the protection to local law. The measure shares the intent of an antidiscrimination bill that failed in the state Legislature earlier this year.

"This is simply a matter of assuring liberty and justice for all," Councilman Bret Weber said.

Council President Hal Gershman said passage of the local measure was one of the proudest moments in his 13 years on the council. Councilman Terry Bjerke, who cast the lone vote in opposition, said he worries about the potential for grievances and lawsuits.

"Trying to list every single person that might be discriminated against, we don't have enough paper printed to cover all that," he said. "So I think basically it's a waste of time. Also, I don't think it's an issue."

City Human Resources Director Daryl Hovland also said he did not think the measure will have a great impact.

"We hire the most qualified candidates," he said.

Some residents want the protection extended to all workers in the city and to those seeking housing within city limits.

"Successful urban development begins with the ability to attract (a) skilled, creative, diverse workforce," resident Shana Wiley told the council.

City Attorney Howard Swanson said he is drafting an ordinance dealing with housing but that a law dealing with private employment is beyond the city's authority.

The measure was not without its critics. Ray Dohman, of McCanna, called the amendment "evil."

"I find it quite incredible you would enhance protection for homosexuals," he told the council.

Weber said the measure was "past due," and that city officials in Fargo, Grafton and Mandan have been following the process in Grand Forks and might consider similar proposals.

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