64th Legislative Assembly: Week 10 Wed to Fri Highlights- Higher Ed Governance Models and Email, State Employee Retirement Age

On Monday we covered legislative activities occurring on March 9th and 10th. Today we wrap up the rest of Week 10 by reviewing Wednesday through Friday’s hearings.

Wednesday, March 11th

Higher Education Governance Models Study

House Education

Pioneer Room

9:00am

HCR 3046 was introduced late in the first half of the session by Reps Carlson, Belter, Delzer, and Vigesaa; four key members of House leadership. If passed and accepted in the interim, this study will address what has been the root cause problem with the ND University System — governance, or an extreme lack of it.

Measure 3 was by no means perfect, but it was a start. One of the primary criticisms of the measure was it really did not change much regarding how the governing board overseeing the NDUS was selected; all it really changed was reducing the number of board members while making them full time. Despite this, it threatened emperors overseeing the State Board of Higher Education and NDUS; so much so that they were successful in stirring up enough faux fears regarding accreditation concerns (despite the fact that the Higher Learning Commission never actually stated accreditation would be lost if the state changed the governance system, and other states have governance systems similar to that proposed by Measure 3) that the voters rejected the change proposed. It didn’t help matters that there were better models proposed in the last session either, but we got the one we voted on because it was the House Majority Leader’s idea.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]… the Presidents run loose largely unsupervised and without being held accountable, the part time Board doesn’t know what they don’t know about what is happening in that system (and if they do they are complicit in the questionable activities of the system), and the Chancellor facilitates keeping the board snowed while the Presidents do as they please (after all, he was one of them)[/mks_pullquote]This study appears instead to try and work with the existing convoluted governance structure to make it more effective, and in turn (hopefully) more accountable. Right now, the Presidents run loose largely unsupervised and without being held accountable, the part time Board doesn’t know what they don’t know about what is happening in that system (and if they do they are complicit in the questionable activities of the system), and the Chancellor facilitates keeping the board snowed while the Presidents do as they please (after all, he was one of them). This study will consider the following:

HigherEdHCR

This study, and any subsequent policy changes which may come from it, is movement in the right direction which can help improve matters. It will also keep the debate alive, and hopefully better whet the appetites of the electorate to vote for the complete overhaul the NDUS desperately needs.

Other Bills Heard Wednesday:

  • SB 2174 regarding a study of the state’s health care delivery system
    • House Human Services
    • Fort Union
    • 10:00am
  • SB 2337 on oil extraction tax exemptions
    • House Finance and Taxation
    • Fort Totten
    • 10:00am

Thursday, March 12th

University System Email and IT Systems

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River Room

Starts at 9:00am

HB’s 1051 and 1052 were discussed in Week 2, and can be tied to numerous open records violations (2014 alone was a red letter year) in the NDUS, IT breaches, and the tone-deaf desire by at least one problem institution to be allowed to operate on their own IT system. We said then that these were common sense solutions to the challenges faced, and the House agreed by wide margins. We hope the Senate will concur.

Their concurrence is important on this, as well as other bills passed by the House which they will entertain in the near future, for the direct reason that these bills are good legislation. But it is also important for more indirect yet very vital reasons — to prove to the citizens of this state that they are no longer desire to be perceived as enablers for Higher Education’s unacceptable behaviors.

They started off on a good foot when it became clear the SBHE president was not going to have her nomination for another term confirmed — she stepped down rather than face this certainty. Then they fell down, confirming a new member who was another crony of the establishment, and for lack of nicer terms was oblivious to the condition of the NDUS (even though he had served while awaiting formal confirmation for 6 months). So, for all intents and purposes the Senate fell right back where they started.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]People are watching, and they want to believe the Senate is ready to hold that system accountable. But that will only happen if they actually take the actions needed to prove they are serious. Passing these four bills (without removing their teeth through amendments) will go a long ways towards providing that proof[/mks_pullquote]Passage of these two bills (and two more in the future relating to the Legislature setting tuition and removing lawyers and auditors from the NDUS) will help the Senate get going back in the right direction again relating to being serious about cracking down on Higher Education. People are watching, and they want to believe the Senate is ready to hold that system accountable. But that will only happen if they actually take the actions needed to prove they are serious. Passing these four bills (without removing their teeth through amendments) will go a long ways towards providing that proof.

Other Bills Heard Thursday:

  • SB 2361 on eminent domain authority of the Western Area Water Supply Authority
    • House Energy and Natural Resources
    • Pioneer Room
    • 9:00am
  • HCR 3060 proposes a ballot initiative to create provisions in the State Constitution for a State Ethics Commission. This is, as Legislators say regarding an idea defeated in a previous session or sessions, an “old friend”. The ballot measure approach is new, but the concept is still not a good fit for North Dakota
    • House Government and Veterans Affairs
    • Fort Union
    • 9:00am

Friday, March 13th

Raising Retirement Age Eligibility for State Employees

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River Room

9:15am

One huge disappointment this session is an extreme lack of any meaningful action on the part of the Legislature regarding public employees pension reform. They seem more interested in keeping ND United (the teachers and public employees union, which has a tendency to successfully bluff the Legislature on how much influence they have) appeased than acknowledging the reality that the bubble will burst on the Defined Benefit system.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]… the hard choice has to be made sooner than later or promises made to employees will have to be broken right when they need them upheld most, and the state (and in reality the taxpayer) will have a catastrophic mess to clean up when the pension bubble does burst[/mks_pullquote]The closest thing we have this session is HB 1080, which among other things will raise the the rule for retirement to either 65 years old or combining the age and years of service to equal 90 (so long as the employee is 60 years old by that point). Currently, the requirement is for that combination to equal at least 85. This would apply to new state employees hired after December 31st, 2015. Such a change is projected to at least restabilize the retirement system somewhat; hopefully long enough to buy time to convert new employees over to a Defined Contribution plan in a future session.

Going to Defined Contribution plans is a needed change. HB 1080 will help, but the hard choice has to be made sooner than later or promises made to employees will have to be broken right when they need them upheld most, and the state (and in reality the taxpayer) will have a catastrophic mess to clean up when the pension bubble does burst.

Other Bills Heard Friday:

  • HB 1432 on the environmental impact litigation fund
    • Senate Agriculture
    • Roosevelt Park Room
    • 9:00am
  • HCR 3009 which urges Congress to pass  H.R 5078 relating to the Clean Water Act and the definition of “Waters of the United States”
    • Senate Agriculture
    • Roosevelt Park Room
    • 10:00am

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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