Just over a week ago, North Dakota lawmakers voted to prevent giving free school lunches to low-income students. Then, on Thursday, they voted to increase the amount of money they get to spend on their own lunch.
On March 27, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill, which had passed the House, guaranteeing free school lunches to K-12 students in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
On Thursday, the Senate voted 26–21 to pass a bill to raise per diem meal reimbursements for state employees traveling within the state, from $35 to $45.
Republican Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein told local outlet InForum that state employees should be getting a higher sum because inflation costs have made meals more expensive. Klein voted against giving students, whose parents are also being squeezed by inflation, free school lunch.
“I thought today’s vote was very self-serving,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan told InForum. “How can we vote for ourselves when we can’t vote for children?”
The effort to give low-income students free school lunches for the next two years would have cost just some $6 million, a relatively small price to pay to ensure children don’t go hungry. While the Senate failed to pass the bill, the House is not giving up quite yet, reattaching the provision to a broader school funding bill.
Bills that target marginalized people, meanwhile, have been sailing through the North Dakota legislature. On Monday, the Senate passed bans on providing gender-affirming care to people under 18 and on transgender women’s participation in female sports in grade school and college.
The Senate also revived a push to prevent teachers and government employees from recognizing transgender students using their preferred pronouns—a bill that Republican Governor Doug Burgum had vetoed last month. While the House fell short of overriding his veto, Senate lawmakers put the language back into a separate bill that aims to restrict transgender students’ access to restrooms. Last month, Republican state Representative Lori VanWinkle likened respecting students’ preferred pronouns to murder.