This is the first installment we are trying out on SAB this legislative session where we will highlight (at least in our opinion) the scheduled activities of the legislature (or occurring because of it) for the week ahead. Most highlights will focus on committee meetings for bills we are keeping an eye on, although they may not necessarily be bills which are used for scoring the assembly on their votes this session. Actual floor votes would only be guesses on our part due to how they are scheduled, but committee meetings generally are set up in a manner where a weekly post can capture the highlights we are after. That is generally fine, as while the floor votes are what count, the committee hearings and subsequent committee work generally set the stage for those votes.
We will not commit to trying to catch all the highlights for an upcoming week, as each one has many occurring simultaneously. Highlights are also very much a matter of perspective. If, however, you feel there are activities happening which we did not feature, feel free to share them with the readership in the comments.
If there are other events occurring you are aware of in the weeks ahead which may not be reflected on the official Legislative Assembly calendar (such as the Converge of the Capitol event listed below), feel free to email those in to Rob for consideration.
Monday, January 12th
ND Heritage Center
This event, sponsored by Liberty ND PAC with the support of other grassroots citizens groups, will feature discussions and speakers on a wide variety of topics. In addition, petitions are scheduled to be delivered to legislators on a 0% income tax rate, repealing common core, stopping the EPA’s continued over-regulation, ending federal entanglement in education, and ending the ability of state agencies to introduce legislation without a sponsor from the assembly (we are the only state which allows this). This petitions, at time of this writing, were still open for signature at the event website.
They will also have a keynote speaker, Joy Pullman, address Common Core. She is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of The Federalist, and a former teacher and curriculum writer.
This bill, filed by Rep. Scott Louser, which would extend the moratorium on the University of North Dakota for replacing the Fighting Sioux name and logo by another two years. It was a bit interesting to us how quickly the House Education Committee scheduled this bill for a hearing, considering how late in the week it was filed and made public on the Legislative Assembly website.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]For too long this issue has been about one side trying to win out over the other, when a compromise position does exist which allows for each to get enough of something they wanted.[/mks_pullquote]We think a better solution would be to just make the moratorium permanent, but another two years is still better than continuing an expensive committee decision making process. Most importantly, keeping no name in place at least for two more years (and maybe the bill will be amended to make it permanent) will respect both sides of a very contentious issue in what we see is an an excellent compromise. For too long this issue has been about one side trying to win out over the other, when a compromise position does exist which allows for each to get enough of something they wanted. This bill is that compromise, or at least a good start on one.
State Health Care Delivery
Peace Garden Room
This bill, if passed, will allow for a legislative management study of the state’s health care delivery system. Considering how Obamacare has been one failure after another but isn’t probably going to go away (at least for the next two years), studying the specifics of how the state works with Obamacare is not a bad thing to do.
Increased Transparency on Property Tax Assessment Increases, Hearings, and State Property Tax Credits
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Best of all, an assessment can’t increase by 15% or more without the property owner first having an opportunity for a hearing.[/mks_pullquote]We are in favor of anything that increases citizen awareness and promotes greater transparency in government, especially when it is directly tied to the taxes those citizens have to pay. This bill would require written notification be made to a property tax payer by a taxing authority when the assessment for their property increases by $3,000 or 10% of the previous valuation. Best of all, an assessment can’t increase by 15% or more without the property owner first having an opportunity for a hearing.
We like the idea, and we are pretty sure the cities, counties, and townships will not. Anticipate that their lobbying organizations (which the respective local governments pay dues to, and which the dues money comes from your property taxes to begin with) will be pushing back on this transparency and awareness effort simply because they may actually have to do a better job justifying why property taxes have to be increased.
At 10:15am, a hearing on HB 1058 relating to required hearings and notices of hearings for levy increases will be heard, followed by a hearing on HB 1059 relating to state-paid property tax credits. The latter is more of the same we have been seeing the past few sessions — ultimately an effort to shift more property tax burden to the state, where the same taxpayers can pay their property taxes in a different manner — instead of real reform we have been needing for some time.
Establishment of a ND Education Foundation
On initial review this appears harmless enough, but in reality it appears to be another State Board of Higher Education but focused on K-12. They would have authority to distribute private sector funds received for educational purposes, which also sounds harmless enough but whenever you are passing out money, power will flow to the givers of the money. Considering this board is not elected similar to the SBHE (an we see how much folly they create in this state), and how any money given to a public entity like schools becomes public once given regardless of source, that could be concerning.
Also interesting is the following:
Guidance can be taken to mean many things, and would one of these things be direction? Also, the entire section featured above seems like those things the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as an elected official, should already be doing. It definitely steps outside the boundaries of what a foundation usually focuses on. This bill was proposed by the DPI as well, so it will be interesting to see what they really have in mind here.
Tuesday, January 13th
Early Childhood Education
We have written about our concerns with this concept before on SAB, specifically when it was up for expansion last session. Further expansion is being proposed this one, which is silly because the returns on investment have been less than impressive unless your measurement is providing babysitting at government expense for as many children as possible.
But hey, its for the children or something, so I guess results don’t matter.
Immunity for those Reporting a Drug Emergency
This bill makes a lot of sense to us, and will probably save a few lives if passed. It will grant a level of immunity to those who report a drug overdose emergency, which may not have otherwise occurred had the person making the 911 call been using illegal substances themselves.
Classification of Marriage and Family Therapists as Mental Health Professionals
On initial review this may not appear to be a bad thing, but when we pause to consider the processes for removal of liberties from an individual a “Mental Health Professional” can initiate, this change is concerning. While the proposal applies only to licensed therapists, it puts them on par with those people who have much stronger medical backgrounds in mental health, and this could be a concern. Taking anyone’s personal liberties away, no matter for how long, is serious business. It is something that should only be done at the behest of a medically-focused mental health professional. We hope the debate on this bill will adequately address this concern, with amendments made to better safeguard personal liberty.
Wednesday, January 14th
Mandatory Civics Testing
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]But 60% to pass? Come on! So much for that “rigor” our educational leaders say is lacking in the classroom[/mks_pullquote]This bill would require high school seniors to take the same test applicants for US citizenship take. The cynic in many is concluding this bill is a distraction away from more controversial issues in K-12 education such as Common Core and Early Childhood programs. I see the argument and raise you an “I would not be surprised”. But at the same time, this isn’t a bad requirement in light of the embarrassing lack of understanding so many naturally-born US citizens have about their country. The civics test isn’t a guarantee the knowledge will be retained, and more importantly, exercised — but it is better than what we have now.
But 60% to pass? Come on! So much for that “rigor” our educational leaders say is lacking in the classroom. If this passes, lets amend that up quite a bit — 80% to 90% is my vote due to the importance of the material, and the fact that it will impact their lives every day.
Thursday, January 15th
ND University System IT
The University System as a whole has been the subject of way too many issues over the past several years, and their management of information technology is no exception. HB 1051 will seek to address those concerns by forcing all system schools onto a unified email system (which makes sense because, well, this is supposed to be a system), requiring the use of that system for official business, and mandating retention of all emails generated for five years. This is a needed change considering we have institutions who like to do their own thing but have shown they can’t be trusted with this responsibility, and seem to “lose” emails subject to a legislative request.
HB 1052 is a common sense bill, even if the problems in Higher Education were not in existence, which would require better coordination and collaboration between the state’s Information Technology Division and the ND University System’s Chief Information Officer. Which really begs the question of why, if ITD manages to serve the rest of state government very well, they can’t also manage the NDUS system. One can get a headache envisioning all the unnecessary duplication. More importantly, from a transparency standpoint it probably would be best if the NDUS was not allowed to maintain their own IT. It is pretty clear that, at least through the actions of one of their institutions, maybe they should not be.
Exempting Student Information from Open Records Requests
On first pass, exempting the home address and mailing address of students from Open Records requests sounds reasonable, and that is what this bill introduced by the SBHE attempts to do. This bill does appear to be in response to mailings to students by Republicans from the last election, and the faux outrage that followed. Honestly, the availability of student addresses isn’t that big a deal; these ARE adults (a fact only remembered when it is convenient for Higher Education), and many ARE eligible to vote in our elections. There is not reason why any candidate or cause should not be able to exercise their right of free speech through a mailer just like they do for adults not in college.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The privacy of student addresses is important either all of the time or none of the time, and the NDUS should not be able to pick and choose when that is based on what suits the system[/mks_pullquote]The bill also seeks to exempt the information, not make it confidential. This in my mind is where the SBHE shoots their argument in the foot. Confidential records cannot be released. Exempt records leave the discretion to the agency possessing the record. This means they can decide when students get their privacy protected and when they do not. Making the records confidential would forbid institutions from releasing student information when it would benefit the institution. The privacy of student addresses is important either all of the time or none of the time, and the NDUS should not be able to pick and choose when that is based on what suits the system.
Friday, January 16th
Study Bill on the Impact of the Fargo Diversion
This bill seeks to examine, on a broader scale, the impacts of the proposed Fargo Diversion on those areas of concern outside of the city. We see this as a good study for the state to undertake due to the expense of a diversion, and the need to get any flooding solution for the Fargo area right the first time. Ensuring the needs of all property owners are reviewed is also important, not just those in the city of Fargo.