House bill that would criminalize 'false and frivolous' allegations lacks support in first committee vote

The bill, which was met with a 7-5 vote with one member absent, will move to subcommittee for amendment.

Eric Murphy
Eric Murphy (Submitted photo)

BISMARCK — A House bill that would criminalize filing "false and frivolous" accusations of harassment or discrimination against public employees failed its first vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 17, by a margin of 7-5, with one committee member absent.

House Bill 1256, introduced by Rep. Eric Murphy, R-Grand Forks, would make anyone convicted of filing a false and frivolous accusation guilty of a class C felony, and those convicted of "willfully encouraging" others to file a false and frivolous accusation guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, expressed concern over the legal definition of what constitutes a false allegation.

"What would be the standard for determining what is false?" asked Roers Jones. "Do you need to have evidence that disproves the allegation, and is there a standard for disproving, or does false simply mean the accused was not disciplined?"

Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, said the penalties associated with a class C felony — up to five years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine — could dissuade those with valid claims from coming forward.


"The threat of these penalties could create a chilling effect on positive claims that need to be made," said Schneider. "Also, is that a proper penalty for something that might be free speech and unprovable one way or another?"

Rep. Cole Christensen, R-Rogers, said although he agrees with the bill's intent, it needs amending.

"The intent of this bill — which I hope we can all agree on — is that you should not be making false claims against a person, simply because you disagree with them," said Christensen. "My wish is that we fix a couple of aspects to make it palatable."

The bill will move to a subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, for amendment.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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