64th Legislative Assembly: Week 10 Mon and Tue Highlights- Initiated Measure Reform, Student Datamining and Testing Opt Out, and Higher Ed "Pay it Forward" Models

The first full week of the second half of the 64th Legislative Assembly kicks off on Monday, March 9th; which is also Day 42 of the session’s 80 day calendar. We did not bring you a weekly update last week due to the short number of days, and our focus on the Legislative Ranking Scorecards for the House and Senate. The rankings focused on marker bills, and we even looked at some overall statistics regardless of bill merit previous to the scorecards.

In the second half, we will focus primarily on the continued progress of the marker bills. At the end of the first half, 41 House marker bills and resolutions survived or had yet to be voted on. 27 made it through the Senate. There may be a bill we occasionally highlight which is not on either lists, but our primary focus will be on the surviving bills.

Monday, March 9th

House Concurrent Resolutions on the rights of corporations relating to free speech and initiated measures with fiscal impact

House Judiciary

Prairie Room

Starts at 9:20am

HCR 3050 is similar in theme to HCR 3030, the latter of which was soundly put out of its misery on March 5th by a score of 22-68. Both appear to be a reaction to the 2009 Supreme Court of the United States ruling on Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.  In this ruling, the court correctly ruled that Corporations do enjoy the same basic free speech rights a citizen does; after all, corporations are made up of people, and people do not lose their civil rights just because they act collectively as a corporation — or say as a labor union for that matter.

That is an important point. Civil liberties, such as those protected by the 1st Amendment, are not just there for speech we like or from speech expressed (via actually speaking or through political donations) by people (as individuals or in groups) which we agree with. They are in effect all the time and for everyone, regardless of how they choose to organize; and for all types of speech including donations.

We fully expect the House to dispatch HCR 3050 just as they did HCR 3030 once the hearing is complete.

HCR 3050 will be followed by HCR 3047, which is part of the Legislative Assembly’s continued efforts to reform the initiated measure process which began last session. This reform is one we feel is a good one; it is in direct response to the catastrophe avoided through the defeat of Measure 5 last November. The reason why is in the below passage:

HCR3047This appears to take a needed middle ground. One concern is not further restricting the initiated measure process, which is held dear in this state despite recent track records of measure failures as well as contention and fraudulent signature collections. On the other side reside concerns of the branch of government who controls the purse, and the fact that theoretically the initiated measure process could deliver onto them a challenging budgetary mess to straighten out.

This change will help ensure high dollar measures are at least voted on during general elections, when there is a higher level of both voter turnout as well as debate and discussion leading up to that event. It may not guarantee the Assembly won’t have a fiscal challenge on their hands if a high dollar impact measure were to pass, but at least more of the electorate will have participated in the passage of the amendment after (hopefully) a lot of thought.

Personally, I would like to see all initiated measures (except repealers) on a November ballot anyways. But this is a good start.

Other Bills to be Heard Monday

  • SB 2096  on eliminating sales taxes on internet access
    • House Finance and Taxation
    • Fort Totten Room
    • 9:15am
  • HB 1254 on parental income tax deductions for education expenses
    • Senate Finance and Taxation
    • Lewis and Clark
    • 9:15am
  • SB 2057, allowing Legislative Management to appoint a committee to study statutory provisions relating to economic development grants
    • House Finance and Taxation
    • Fort Totten Room
    • 10:30am
  • SB 2210 on allowing for establishment of Regional Education Associations, which we discussed in Week 3. They are still a bad idea in Week 10
    • House Education
    • Pioneer
    • 2:00pm

Tuesday, March 10th

Student Datamining and Opting Out of Assessment Tests

Two contentious bills will be heard Tuesday; one each by each chamber’s Education Committee. One is SB 2326 relating to student datamining, which will be heard by the House side at 9:00am in the Pioneer Room. The other bill is HB 1283, which relates to parents rights as they relate to opting their children out of standardized testing. This one will be heard at 9:05am in the Missouri River Room.

Both these topics have been tied to the Common Core debate, but they are controversial in their own right (even if you support the concept of Common Core).  HB 1283 we feel is a good bill which reinforces the rights of parents to opt their kids out of testing which simply is not directly relevant to their academic progress; specific concerns surround statewide assessment tests which admittedly serve no real purpose outside of compliance with education fads masquerading as initiatives.

SB 2326 on the other hand is simply an attempt to make it look like the state is addressing very real concerns parents have on the types and amounts of personal data which is mined and shared on their children via the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS). As we discussed in the first half, all this bill will do however is allow parents to find out (and only if they go to a website or ask a district for a list) what data is being mined; the bill is silent about how they can say no to what is collected and/or shared. That oversight (if it really is that) is not acceptable. HB 1453 was definitely a better bill, but failed 47-44, falling a few votes short of the majority needed for passage after yet another contentious floor debate.

But the most interesting matter at hand is the timing of these hearings to begin with. In the first half, SB 2326 was scheduled for its hearing before Senate Education at the same time HB 1461 was being heard by the House Education Committee.  HB 1461 was the anti-Common Core bill which was by far the most controversial of the session to date, generating the largest attendance of any hearing and a close vote defeat after nearly an hour and a half of floor debate. During that hearing, SB 2326 was able to slip through it’s committee without much notice because all the attention was on HB 1461.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]While I am not accusing Sen Flakoll and Rep Nathe of collusion in scheduling these two hearings so that concerned parents would not be able to attend both (thus cutting down on the opposition at each), I would not put it past them either. That spirit of transparency, after all, can be so inconvenient sometimes.[/mks_pullquote]We see a similar circumstance unfolding Tuesday. While I am not accusing Sen Flakoll and Rep Nathe (chairmen of their respective chambers Education Committees) of collusion in scheduling these two hearings so that concerned parents would not be able to attend both (thus cutting down on the opposition at each), I would not put it past them either. That spirit of transparency, after all, can be so inconvenient sometimes.

Higher Education “Pay it Forward” Models

House Education

Pioneer

2:00pm

HCR 3044 is a study resolution proposed by one Republican, Rep Looysen; and Democrat Reps Hanson, Oversen, and Hawken (oops, did I do that?) which will delve into a “Pay It Forward” option in paying for a higher education experience. Summarized, such a model will allow a student to not pay for school while they are attending, in exchange for paying a percentage of their income over the course of twenty years or so.

Absolutely nothing could go wrong with something like this, right?

Of course it is entirely possible that a student could never graduate (which happens more often then not in the NDUS), racking up a 20 year obligation while getting nothing in return. This is no improvement over our current situation. Then there is the fact that current student loan programs take on average of 10 years to pay off. Next, the whole everyone pays the same percent, but based on different incomes, for what is in essence the same product. Sounds like a neat socialist Utopian dream, but in reality there is no assurance that the system will break even in exchange for the education provided, and that cost shortfall can only fall on one set of shoulders — the taxpayers.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The higher ed system is already rife with professional students hiding on campuses because doing so is easier than being a productive member of society, and campuses provide a modicum of sanctuary from the expectations of the real world[/mks_pullquote]Last, if a student wants to avoid paying back that percentage, under this model it looks like all they need to do is stay in school. The higher ed system is already rife with professional students hiding on campuses because doing so is easier than being a productive member of society, and campuses provide a modicum of sanctuary from the expectations of the real world. Pay It Forward models will only make this problem worse.  

We don’t need a study to see this is an idea best left on a napkin inside the hookah bar.

Other Bills to be Heard Tuesday

  • HB 1434 on Sunday Alcohol Sales
    • Senate Judiciary
    • Fort Lincoln
    • 9:00am
  • HCR 3054, which would seek a change to the Constitution that, if passed by the voters, would allow casinos and casino games in the state on a for-profit basis
    • House Judiciary
    • Prairie
    • 9:00am
  • SB 2378 allows a tax credit in exchange for supporting “quality of life” projects. Nothing could go wrong with this idea either, if passed
    • House Finance and Taxation
    • Fort Totten
    • 10:15am
  • SB 2259 will ease restrictions on the use of experimental drugs during medical treatments
    • House Human Services
    • Fort Union
    • 10:30am
  • HCR 3059 will, if passed, allow for opportunity to study the legalization of medical marijuana for individuals with serious medical conditions
    • House Human Services
    • Fort Union
    • 2:00pm

We will cover activities on Wednesday through Friday in a post later this week.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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