Legislators look to update outdated language in ND Constitution

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 7:04 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The North Dakota State Constitution has been amended more than 160 times. The last revision was in November when voters chose to set term limits for state lawmakers. Now officials are looking to change it again, this time due to outdated language.

Images like these are more than 100 years old, and so is the language in the North Dakota State Constitution that describes the subjects.

“I think that anytime we are talking about the disability community, the language that we use is critically important. Because I do think a lot of times we can marginalize people with language,” said Designer Genes Executive Director Roxane Romanick.

State Senators and Representatives have both approved changing parts of the constitution to update terminology. Changes are limited to updating the names of state-funded entities.

“I just think as that language continues to be emphasized and reflected from a person-first perspective that just shows the approach the state of North Dakota that to make sure we treat everyone fairly and appropriately,” said Tim Eissinger, CEO of the Anne Carlsen Center.

Three facilities could be getting name changes:

  • The State Hospital, which is currently referred to as a hospital for the insane, would be revised to the State Hospital for the Care of Individuals with Mental Illness.
  • The School for the Deaf and Dumb could change to the School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
  • The institution for the feeble-minded would be changed to the Facility of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.

“There is a lot of legacy aspects of how North Dakota managed their affairs in the late 1800s, early 1900s that don’t really reflect the attitude of people of all abilities today,” said Eissinger.

The Life Skills and Transition Center in Grafton has not only undergone a name change but an update in use. In the past, the center was used as a home for individuals with disabilities. Now it helps people learn skills to live in their communities.

“It is kind of symbolic to think that we are going to treat people with more respect. And be very intentional about how we address them and how we support them to live,” said Romanick.

The State Constitution cannot be amended without voter approval. Voters are expected to decide the measure on the 2024 ballot.

All three facilities getting name changes are still located in the cities they were started in: Jamestown, Devils Lake and Grafton.