North Dakota Advisory Committee to the
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Members of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Carl A. Anderson
Christopher Edley, Jr.
Yvonne Y. Lee
Elsie M. Meeks
Russell G. Redenbaugh
Ruby G. Moy, Staff Director
As part of its responsibility to assist the Commission in its factfinding function, the North Dakota Advisory Committee submits this report of its study of civil rights enforcement efforts in North Dakota. Members of the Advisory Committee who participated in the project approved the report by a unanimous vote. The study is based on background research and interviews by Committee members and staff, public factfinding meetings conducted in Bismarck and Fargo on May 16, 1996, and September 24, 1997, respectively, and followup data collection and additional interviews conducted after the factfinding meetings. Persons who provided information were given an opportunity to review relevant sections of the report and, where appropriate, their comments and corrections were incorporated.
The Advisory Committee has a longstanding interest in State civil rights enforcement. In 1984 the Committee held a miniforum where public and private sector representatives expressed concerns with the absence of administrative mechanisms for enforcement of the newly enacted Human Rights Act.
In 1990 the Advisory Committee received additional information on this subject and voted to conduct a study addressing civil rights enforcement in North Dakota. However, as a result of serious problems affecting Native American students in special education programs, the Committee determined that it would address this issue before returning to a broader assessment of civil rights enforcement.
The issue of civil rights enforcement was again visited by Advisory Committee members in 1992 where they heard presentations from State and Federal personnel, community organizations, and private individuals. In March 1993, the Advisory Committee reaffirmed its previous commitment to conduct a study of civil rights enforcement efforts in North Dakota. The Committee’s objective was to review the history, intent, adequacy, effectiveness, and enforcement of human rights legislation.
This report identifies and analyzes barriers North Dakota citizens face in attempting to file discrimination complaints in pursuit of relief or remedies. The Committee found that although there is a State agency charged with investigating and resolving complaints of employment discrimination (the North Dakota Department of Labor), citizens, community organizations, State legislators, and Federal officials voiced numerous concerns regarding its effectiveness. Allegations and criticisms included unresponsiveness, inefficiency, inadequate investigations, and lack of judicial enforcement. The Committee also found that there are no State entities to address the other myriad areas of discrimination protected under the North Dakota Human Rights Act.
Among its study findings, the North Dakota Advisory Committee noted that North Dakota desperately needs a mechanism to carry out the provisions of the North Dakota Human Rights Act. In addition, the extent of discrimination in the State needs to be determined, and a human rights commission established with full investigative and enforcement powers.
During its 1999 session, the North Dakota Legislature introduced three bills that addressed human rights. Two bills focused on the establishment of a Human Rights Commission that would have addressed issues of discrimination within the State including housing. Both bills were defeated. A third bill was signed by Governor Schafer on April 19 that seeks to create a fair housing law substantially equivalent to Federal guidelines. The law will become effective October 1, 1999, and is to be administered by the State Department of Labor. Advisory Committee members were disappointed that the legislative proposals calling for the creation of an independent human rights commission were once more defeated.
Advisory Committee urges the Commission to accept this report.
A. Barrett, Chairperson
North Dakota Advisory Committee