64th Legislative Assembly: Week 4 Highlights- DUI Checkpoints, Taxes, Guns in Schools, Common Core Testing, Voter ID, Governor's Mansion, and Annual Sessions

Monday starts week 4 of the 64th Legislative Assembly, and by this Friday close to 24% of the Constitutionally-authorized 80 days will have passed. More importantly, they are roughly at the halfway mark before crossover.

The House has introduced 474 bills and 18 resolutions. They have passed 69 and five (respectively), failed 11 and one, and withdrew two bills. Thus, they have established some level of disposition on 18% of the work generated for their chamber. The Senate has introduced 334 bills (so far, see below) and 13 resolutions. 52 and two (respectively) have passed, seven bills have failed, and no bills or resolutions have been withdrawn. They too are at around 18% complete for their side. While a linear progression is not something that is realistic when you are considering legislation, as you can see by the numbers that both chambers are off the pace a bit. This does not mean they won’t meet the crossover deadline, but the pace will have to markedly accelerate between now and then.

Monday also marks the final day Senators can introduce bills (the House’s deadline was last Monday, Jan 19th). Thursday is the deadline for introducing resolutions, except amendments to the Constitution and study resolutions.

As for the week ahead, it will be another busy one. Let’s take a look at some highlights on the schedule…

Monday, January 26th

SB 2150 – Hearing – Senate Judiciary

ND University System Student and Student Organization Disciplinary Hearings

Fort Lincoln

9:00am

One would think that, in a university system where the concept of “shared governance” of individual institutions is held in high esteem, so too would the concepts of legal representation and appeal when it comes to the quasi-judicial systems for their students and student organizations. But that may be inconvenient for them, and we wouldn’t want to inconvenience the University System, now would we?

SB 2150 seeks to change by granting students and student organizations the right to legal representation (at their own expense) during disciplinary procedures; something they do not enjoy now. Further, they may seek review of certain university disciplinary decisions in a district court.

This change is necessary. Just ask Caleb Warner, whose reputation was destroyed by UND despite false accusations.

HB 1084 – Hearing – House Judiciary

DUI Checkpoints 

Prairie

9:15am

Few bills have generated such pre-hearing debate as HB 1084, which through very simple language restores the spirit of the 4th Amendment as it pertains to traffic stops — and specifically would outlaw DUI checkpoints.

DUICheckpoint

 

DUI checkpoints have been a topic of contention since their initiation, and even law enforcement has admitted they are not nearly as effective as other DUI enforcement techniques. In exchange for a perception of public safety (as the effectiveness of these checkpoints is questionable at best), we have sacrificed privacy rights and made anyone driving on a certain stretch of road an automatic suspect of a crime until proven otherwise. The big reason why they remain popular is because there is a tremendous amount of “free” federal grant money tied to them; nothing will trample rights faster than lower levels of government chasing money from higher levels of government.

Despite these facts, you can fully expect North Dakota law enforcement to flood the Capital (at taxpayer expense) from all corners of the state as they have in the past; in full uniform. Seemingly, this is for the purposes of lobbying against this legislation, but one can’t help but also wonder if this isn’t partially a subtle effort aimed at intimidating lawmakers into giving them their way. The flood of uniforms, badges, and cuffs may not occur at this hearing, but if the bill passes you could easily see it once it crosses over to the Senate.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Issues like DUI checkpoints have also triggered other unfortunate side effects… you  must automatically be a habitual drunk trying to get away with driving under the influence (if you oppose them)… And the worst — you the citizen should never, ever have a problem giving up your rights if you are not committing any wrongs[/mks_pullquote]Issues like DUI checkpoints have also triggered other unfortunate side effects. If you are a legislator, you must automatically defer to the judgement of law enforcement when it comes to such matters, without sufficient thought of your own as to their impacts on liberty (and how that liberty isn’t supposed to be sacrificed for security). If you as a citizen question them, you must automatically be a habitual drunk trying to get away with driving under the influence. If you as a citizen or a legislator want to outlaw them, then you just don’t support law enforcement, and could care less about public safety. And the worst — you the citizen should never, ever have a problem giving up your rights if you are not committing any wrongs.

None of this is true, and all of it conflicts in some direct or indirect way with the vision our Founders laid out for this great nation via the Constitution. This all, among many other reasons, is why this bill must be made law.

Tuesday, January 27th

Taxes, Taxes, and More Taxes

Several tax-related bills will be held on Tuesday. The ones we are monitoring are listed below (links have details for the hearings).

  • SB 2033 relating to oil and gas tax revenue
  • SB 2307 addresses property tax relief as well as a renter’s income tax credit
  • SB 2230 also addresses a renter’s income tax credit
  • HB 1167 has been discussed here on SAB before. It is Rep. Scott Louser’s proposal to reduce income taxes to zero
  • HB 1223 is a proposal to reduce corporate and individual income taxes, with some repeal elements included
  • HB 1296 would set a flat tax rate at 2% for individual, estate, and trust income; plus reduce the amount of income subject to these taxes. This is also an excellent proposal

Both parties have put forward ideas on tax reform. we can debate the pros and cons of each, but what is good to see is some concerted efforts being made for reform.

HB 1195 and 1388 – Hearing- House Education 

Concealed Firearms in Schools and School Resource Officer Grants

Pioneer

8:00am

These two bills appear to be a paired set, although 1195 has received much more attention from the media. It is also one of the most misrepresented bills in that media, and thus it is also one of the most misunderstood ones by the public.

Some of my favorite misconceptions are that school districts will be forced to allow concealed carry, that anyone will be able to carry in a school, that students will be allowed to carry, and that teachers will be forced to carry against their will. All of these and more are untrue and frankly pretty silly conclusions, and most are known not to be true by those opposed to the bill — yet they choose not to correct the misconceptions in order to forward their agendas.

The basic concept is simple — it gives local control to local school boards over what should be a local decision; and butts the state out of that mix. This argument has been used many times for many issues (remember Measure 2 on Property Taxes from 2012?). Local control is a widely accepted and revered concept in North Dakota, as it should be.

We trust local officials consistently to manage local matters, but all that seems to get thrown out the window when it comes to the topic of them allowing a concealed weapons permit holder, with specified training, to carry concealed in their schools for the purposes of providing one final security option for when all the interventions and lockdown drills fail.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]That is what this bill seeks to address — allowing those rural districts to decide for themselves if allowing a trained concealed permit holder to carry is an option they want to help better turn some odds back in their favor — and save some lives.

If we can’t trust them with this decision, then maybe we just shouldn’t have local control anymore[/mks_pullquote]Misguided emotion has lost out out over logic in this regard, and our kids are less safe because of it. The unfortunate facts are that, even in an urban setting, minus an armed resource officer (and it is quite interesting to note how the superintendents speaking loudest against allowing school boards to make this decision are from large districts with armed school resource officers), law enforcement will in most instances never arrive in time to make a difference or save lives. It is even worse in a rural school district, where there are no school resource officers and law enforcement is spread too thin (or is simply too far away) to even come close to possibly intervening. That is what this bill seeks to address — allowing those rural districts to decide for themselves if allowing a trained concealed permit holder to carry is an option they want to help better turn some odds back in their favor — and save some lives.

If we can’t trust them with this decision, then maybe we just shouldn’t have local control anymore. If they are wanting to avoid this decision (no matter which way they decide) through hiding behind Century Code, then we definitely should not have local control anymore. Local control also has local obligations; it isn’t just about being able to collect and raise property taxes.

The companion bill (HB 1388) would provide a little more than $1 Million in grants for small districts to hire resource officers. This is not a bad idea to add to the list, but it should not be passed at the expense of HB 1195. Grants can run out. Resource officers get sick, take vacation, or move on to other law enforcement jobs too; and there will never be enough for each rural school. Both need to be passed in order to better ensure the safety and security of our kids.

Wednesday, January 28th

Government Picking Winners and Losers

Two bills we are watching, which fall in the “picking winners and losers” department, will be heard Wednesday.

SB 2309 will be heard by the Senate Industry, Business, and Labor committee at 9:00am in the Roosevelt Park room. This bill, if passed, will handout taxpayer money to “new Americans” for purposes of starting businesses.  HB 1429 is up at 10:00am in the Fort Totten room, where the House Finance and Taxation committee will consider making tax credits for green energy permanent; adding wind, solar, and biomass sources to the existing geothermal ones.

Both bills seek to mess with the free market, which more often than not leads to messy unintended consequences. If a new American wants to start a business, they should have to do so without government advantage over those who were born here.  If green energy is something consumers want, they should not need a tax credit to acquire it. All providing a credit does is demonstrate the market simply is not there for this technology; the legislature should not be trying to force one into existence or keep a faux one alive.

HB 1383 – Hearing – House Education

Electors in School District Bond Elections

Pioneer

8:00am

At first glance this bill is tempting for anyone who directly pays property taxes to support .  If passed, it will in essence only allow those who own property, and thus directly pay those property taxes, to vote in a bond election called by a school district.

But upon further thought, this one can also open up more problems in the long run. Will those not living in the district, and who may be sending their kids to schools in other districts, be allowed to vote on a bond issue just because they own an apartment building there; but those living in that apartment building (indirectly paying the property taxes, mind you) and having kids in that district not be allowed? And is there really anyone who enjoys the benefits of a property, whether they own it or not, who doesn’t somehow contribute to the property tax burden?

Currently, if the renters in that apartment building all vote yes on a bond election while the owner votes no, and that bond passes, the owner will simply pass on the cost of increased taxes from the bond to those renters (as he should be able to do without anyone complaining about it). These things do have a way of balancing out.

HB 1283 – Hearing – House Education

Parental Directives Relating to Mandated Student Testing

Pioneer

8:00am

This bill will be the first battle in what is likely to be an ugly, bloody war over Common Core during this session. While admittedly there has been some shrill factor on both sides of the issue, when you have this many concerned moms (dads too) who are willing to square off against the entrenched educational (who seem to be holding on to Common Core simply to avoid having to say they were wrong about how it really isn’t just standards, and how it was snuck into the state under the radar) and Chamber of Commerce elite, it’s time to back away from this bomb before it blows up in all our faces.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]This bill needs to pass, if anything to reaffirm that parents are in charge[/mks_pullquote]This specific legislation addresses standardized testing and career inventories, by directing that parents be made aware of the intent of the district to test/ assess their children, and allow parents the opportunity to opt their kids out of the tests and inventories. The mere fact that so many parents have had to resort to legislation to fight their districts over testing, and thus remind districts that parents are the final authorities over children; is rather concerning. But, that “misunderstanding” is the genesis of this specific bill.

In addition, the mere fact that education has become more and more focused on test scores and less focused on teaching is equally telling, but it is these testing requirements (and the pressure on schools to test every student… follow the money) that has brought us to where we are for this bill as well.

This bill needs to pass, if anything to reaffirm that parents are in charge.

SB 2217 – Hearing – Senate Finance and Taxation

Taxing Authority Ending Fund Balances

Lewis and Clark

11:00am

This is a subtle yet important transparency bill which addresses the following types of language for pretty much any local taxing authority (there are so many types that it takes 19 pages to say basically the same thing about each):

EndFund

Ending fund balances have been a bit of a bone of contention for a while now, especially in school districts. Some (Bismarck Public Schools comes to mind) have been sitting on tremendous piles of unspent tax dollars collected on an annual basis, while they turn around and put on tremendous marketing efforts to justify passage of bonds for new buildings and the like. This bill seeks not to impact local control over taxation and raising capital for new schools, but rather to be a bit more forthright with the taxpayer about what cash they already have on hand.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Frankly, it is a bit concerning that such balances have been able to accrue while these taxing entities charge more and more; and snowjob taxpayers into voting to give up more and more of their hard earned money because its just easier to slip a bond issue onto a ballot in the middle of the summer (when no one is really watching) than spend what they have already taken[/mks_pullquote]The Legislature has been catching the brunt of the taxpayers ire over property taxes, and often because of local control issues they are not able to do much about it (and in many instances should not be). This transparency law is something they can wade into without interfering in local decision making, but while casting new light on what a big part of the problem has been relating to property taxes (and all the “extras” that get added to that bill) in many local tax districts. Frankly, it is a bit concerning that such balances have been able to accrue while these taxing entities charge more and more; and snowjob taxpayers into voting to give up more and more of their hard earned money because its just easier to slip a bond issue onto a ballot in the middle of the summer (when no one is really watching) than spend what they have already taken.

Better transparency won’t solve this, but it is a first step. Because of this you can fully expect lobbyists for school boards as well as cities and counties to be out in force against this bill.

Thursday, January 29th

Thursday is going to be a busy day as it relates to our list, and in interest of space I’ll more succinctly summarize the bills we are tracking which will be heard below:

Voter ID and Campaign Finance

The House Government and Veterans Affairs committee has a very interesting morning planned Thursday, starting at 8:00am in the Fort Union Room

HB 1389 requires the words “non-US Citizen” be placed on such ID’s issued to, well…  non-US citizens. The ND Department of Transportation issues photo ID’s (drivers licenses and ID cards) more often than you would think to people who are not citizens of this country. When these same ID’s can be used to verify eligibility to vote through proving residency in a voting district, but do not show the holder isn’t a US citizen (and thus can’t vote in any election), then that is a huge gap in assuring those who can vote in our elections won’t have the votes they cast tainted by those who should not. When voter fraud could play more and more of a factor in close elections, gaps like this are tempting ones to use to do just that

HB 1333 will seek to correct some concerns which arose during the last election relating to changes of addresses as they pertained to the state’s voter ID laws. The vast majority of eligible voters did not experience problems voting, but there really is no acceptable level of problems when it comes to being able to exercise the right to vote. In a state like ours, which has no registration, voter ID is essential. But, all steps which can be taken to better assure those who are eligible to vote are able to do so (and do so without major inconvenience) should be taken. This bill seeks to correct some of those handful of issues which did arise.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]When these same ID’s can be used to verify eligibility to vote through proving residency in a voting district, but do not show the holder isn’t a US citizen (and thus can’t vote in any election), then that is a huge gap in assuring those who can vote in our elections won’t have the votes they cast tainted by those who should not[/mks_pullquote]At 2:00pm, the same committee will hear HB 1309. The biggest changes seen in this bill is to preclude measure committees (alongside of individuals and organizations) from being paid based on the number of signatures collected on an initiated measure, referendum, or recall petition. It also includes under the definition of “political committee” those groups which are involved in petitioning, at any stage (including prior to approval for circulation).

This is a bad bill. The initiative process has been under assault by the Legislature since last session, and while some concerns have arisen (inclusive of all the issues surrounding Measure 5), the Legislature is going too far eroding the peoples right to redress grievance through these efforts.

Revolving Loan Fund and Oil and Gas Tax Allocations

HB 1443 will be heard at 8:30am in the Roughrider room by the House Appropriations committee. $400 Million ($100 Million of existing Bank of North Dakota earnings and $300 Million from the strategic investment and improvements fund) is programmed for establishment of a loan program to local political subdivisions for essential infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure spending remains a big need even with the recent slowdown in oil activity, and to see it established in the form of loans on first glance looks like a great approach. The concern that remains is one incumbent with a state owning their own bank, however. Specifically, in the event of a default (or for that matter, even without one), what is to stop the state (under political pressure) from forgiving loans rather than having them repaid? The debate on this bill will be interesting nonetheless.

At 9:00am, the same committee will hear HB 1377 which addresses unobligated balances of the previously-mentioned strategic investment and improvements fund as well as oil and gas tax allocations. The more more interesting changes made under this bill is to halt movement of unobligated balances into the Legacy Fund. Oil and Gas tax deposits will now add the property tax relief sustainability fund and disaster relief fund as beneficiaries under this proposal.

Friday, January 30th

SB 2304 – Hearing – Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

New Governor’s Mansion

Missouri River

9:00am

If passed, $5 Million will be allocated for the purpose of bulldozing the existing Governor’s Mansion and replacing it. A similar proposal came up last session, which was met with lukewarm response from the current resident of the existing facility, despite the fact that there are concerns with the structure which need to be addressed. While the Constitution forbids a Governor from threatening a veto, it was common understanding last session that he would have had that bill passed.

What is interesting this time around is the Legislature seems to have set the bill up to remove the current resident’s concerns over being perceived as self-serving from the debate. If passed, no funds can be spent until after January 1, 2017. Governor Dalrymple likely will not seek another term, and thus will not benefit from a new structure.

It probably is time to consider a new residence based on the condition of the existing one. Whether $5 Million is the right price is another matter.

SB 2260 – Hearing – Senate Political Subdivisions 

Economic Impact Grant Program

Red River

10:00am

This bill will put $20 Million up for grabs to those political subdivisions meeting the following criteria:

EconDev

I am always wary of this type of money being placed on the table for what on the surface really appears to be some loose criteria. While what the money can be spent on is spelled out in the bill, what exactly makes costs associated with economic development extraordinary versus simply a part of adapting to market forces?

Annual Legislative Sessions

Both chambers have bills up for consideration which will direct annual meetings of the Assembly if passed. Both are almost identical, except that HB 1342 calls for 60 days of a “regular” assembly on odd years and no more than 20 days on even years. SB 2247 directs the odd year session may not exceed fifty days, with the even year session being no fewer than 30 days.

The concept behind splitting into annual sessions is rooted in a debate from this past year over certain Democrats and republicans from Oil-producing counties wanting the Governor to call a special session (which he of course did not call).

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]…a truly part time Legislature is a good thing for our state, and has consistently been so throughout it’s history[/mks_pullquote]I hope neither passes from a simple standpoint — having a truly part time Legislature is a good thing for our state, and has consistently been so throughout it’s history. Serving in the Assembly is already challenging enough when a Legislator has to balance that service against a career and family. Being in Bismarck for 80 days every other year (granted there are also interim committee meetings in the even year, but those are no where near as time consuming) allows the opportunity for more members to serve while maintaining that balance.

More importantly, it helps keep our Legislature part time, and more focused on the impacts of what they pass on the citizens of this state. Annual sessions may eventually lead to elected officials who have more of a quasi-full time focus even if the days allocated each biennium don’t change; simply because many who would be great lawmakers can’t make an annual commitment to serve.

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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