64th Legislative Assembly: Week 12 Thu & Fri Highlights- NDUS Email and Federal Funding Requirements (plus more)

Week 12 wraps up with a review of some of our marker bills being heard by the “two day” committees. Each house’s committees are either three day or two day (except for appropriations committees, which meet Monday through Friday), with three day committees meeting Monday through Wednesday. The two day committees wrap up the rest of the legislative week, but really should be called day and a half committees, as most weeks the Legislators are tripping over each other to get out the door after the Friday floor session adjourns.

Most Legislators sit on one three day and one two day committee. Those assigned to Appropriations only serve on that committee since it meets every day of the week. Legislators in certain leadership positions do not have a committee assignment.

The three day committees are:

  • Education
  • Finance and Taxation
  • Human Services
  • Industry, Business and Labor
  • Judiciary

Two day committees are as follows:

  • Agriculture
  • Energy and Natural Resources
  • Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Political Subdivisions
  • Transportation

Thursday, March 26

HB 1051- NDUS Email Systems and Email Retention

Senate Appropriations

Harvest Room

8:30am

Such a law will be an immense service to Administrators who somehow misplaced lots of emails in the past right when the Legislature wanted to look at them. That had to have been embarrassing for them, so it is a good thing this bill was proposed.
This bill was heard by Senate Government and Veterans Affairs on March 12, receiving a do pass recommendation by a very disappointing 4-3 margin. Since it involves expending funding, it now has to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee. As you may recall, if passed it will force all parts of the NDUS onto one email system, and codify an email records retention standard. Such a law will be an immense service to Administrators who somehow misplaced lots of emails in the past right when the Legislature wanted to look at them. That had to have been embarrassing for them, so it is a good thing this bill was proposed. The requirements it brings would have been a huge help to them had they been in effect before, and would have saved some humiliation.

The second hearing is procedure and really not much to comment on, but it does provide some opportunity to highlight how this bill was amended from its original house form. One change is the removal of non-student employee emails from retention requirements. This is probably not a big deal, but I also would not put it past a few of these Administrators to enroll in a class (at no charge I am sure) so they become eligible for a student email address (in addition to their official one) which is exempt from the requirements of this bill. I am not saying they will, but it would come as no surprise if it happened.

The second change is more concerning. The retention timeframe has been shortened from five years to two. This is not a good change, in that it has the potential of eliminating a lot of evidence of shenanigans by the system. They have been so good at keeping these shenanigans under wraps that it may sometimes take more than two years to uncover them. It is a more than a bit disappointing that the Senate has amended this bill in this manner, and done so without any debate. Hopefully the House will find a way to correct this amendment when (hopefully) the bill passes back over to them.

HB’s 1083 and 1085– Impacts of receiving federal funding and federal funding reporting requirements

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River Room

Starts at 9:00am

Two bills concerning federal funding will be heard Thursday.

A study such as this will help us see how we can regain some of the sovereignty we sold to the feds in exchange for the “free” money, and also learn more about the impacts of an inevitable decrease (or elimination) of federal funding before it happens…
HB 1083 will mandate a study about the impacts via mandates the state experiences contingent on receiving federal funding. More importantly, it will look into whether there are ways to accomplish the means currently addressed with federal funds with state resources; thus eliminating the inefficiencies and oversight that comes with taking a check from Uncle Sam. It would also look at whether receiving that money is really worth complying with all the requirements, or are we simply taking the money because it is “free”. In our opinion, this is one of the best study bills being considered this session, and we hope to see it pass. A study such as this will help us see how we can regain some of the sovereignty we sold to the feds in exchange for the “free” money, and also learn more about the impacts of an inevitable decrease (or elimination) of federal funding before it happens, so we can be better prepared to make prioritization decisions.

HB 1085 focuses primarily on the potential issues which may arise should federal funding to state agencies be reduced by 5% and 25%. It also required much more stringent reporting by the ND University System to Legislative Management on activities they conduct in exchange for federal grant dollars.

If the Senate considers themselves both fiscally responsible and is serious about knowing the price of lost sovereignty (and whether it is worth it), they will pass both these bills by a wide margin (the House agrees and already has). We hope they do, and we look forward to learning the results of the studies.

Other bills to be heard Thursday:

SB 2299- Campaign contribution conduit reporting

  • House Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Fort Union Room
  • 9:00am

SB 2222- Open records requests by the Legislative Assembly and Council

  • House Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Fort Union Room
  • 9:00am

HB 1428- State employee harassment policies, or another bill proposing a solution in search of a problem

  • Senate Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Missouri River Room
  • 10:45am

Friday, March 27

HB 1444- Limitations on contract buyouts of contracted state employees

Senate Political Subdivisions

Red River Room

9:00am

Never mind that that is exactly what a Chancellor is supposed to do. Never mind that the State Board of Higher Education is supposed to support these [accountability] efforts on the part of the Chancellor. But that would have required them to be serious about their governance responsibilities, and it is just easier to appease Presidents and get more money from the Legislature for golden parachutes
This could very well be called the Ham Shirvani bill, after the fiasco generated last session when the Legislature appropriated additional money to buy out his contract and appease some institution presidents who didn’t like being held accountable.

Never mind that that is exactly what a Chancellor is supposed to do. Never mind that the State Board of Higher Education is supposed to support these efforts on the part of the Chancellor. But that would have required them to be serious about their governance responsibilities, and it is just easier to appease Presidents and get more money from the Legislature for golden parachutes. After all, these people are just volunteers, and should not be expected to actually live up to those responsibilities. There were also plenty of Higher Ed apologists in the Legislature a bit too close to the NDUS, who were all too willing to oblige providing the buyout.

(To be fair, it could also be called the Coach Mussman bill, after UND’s former football coach who received a boot out the door mid-contract along with a nice six figure contract payout)

This bill still allows the SBHE (and any other state entity) to terminate employment contracts early — but without having to pay them out to the end, as if the person under contract actually performed work. It will not forbid severance payments either, but with limits.

I am sure someone in the Senate will say something like “if we pass this, we won’t be able to attract good Chancellor or Presidential candidates to apply for positions in the University System.” Well, if they really are good candidates worthy of being offered a position, or if the SBHE actually took their governance responsibilities seriously and stood behind Chancellors who are trying to hold Presidents accountable, then we won’t have anything to worry about, will we?

Other bills to be heard Friday:

HCR 3018- Congressional approval of executive branch actions

  • Senate Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Missouri River Room
  • 9:45am

HCR 3047- Placement of Initiated Measures with significant fiscal impact on a General Election ballot. We support this HCR, and wrote about it in Week 10.

  • Senate Government and Veterans Affairs
  • Missouri River Room
  • 10:45am

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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