64th Legislative Assembly: Week 5 Highlights- Medical Marijuana, Drones, Residency of Legislators, Constitutional Conventions, and Provisional Ballots

On Sunday we featured activities happening in the Legislature during Week 5 which start on Monday. We cover the rest of the week’s highlights below.

Tuesday, February 3rd

Tuesday actually looks like a pretty light day from our perspective, and probably necessarily so based on the intense debate which we anticipate will surround Common Core on Monday. Here is what we are watching:

Promise Grant Program

House Education

Pioneer

8:00am

HB 1452 will establish a promise grant program starting with the 2017 academic year, with grant provisions running through 2024. Establishing in Century Code any grant program regardless of merit which could theoretically exist roughly three bienniums is not the best way to do business. More importantly, this program guarantees college scholarships (covering a pretty hefty percentage of tuition varying by academic year) to pretty much any North Dakota child who wants one.

This does two very bad things:

  • Provides a guaranteed stream of indirect funding to Higher Education in North Dakota (on top of what they already receive through direct appropriation), who in turn will simply raise tuition so that the “X”% of tuition covered under this grant annually will in turn net a lot more taxpayer money for their coffers
  • Most importantly, it devalues higher education by making it an entitlement program instead of something you work for; be it through a job, the military, or competing for real scholarships for

The intention behind this bill is good. We want to help out North Dakota kids with the rising cost of tuition in our state. But, as mentioned this program will simply enable more increases in tuition. Also, if you are not truly “earning” your education, you don’t value it near as much and you don’t have near the incentive to actually do well in college.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Passage [of HB 1303] in that [the Senate] chamber would also prove they are serious about doing something substantial about a University System who simply has no regard for accountability, for the Legislature that funds them, for the taxpayers who provides that funding, and most importantly for the students they are supposed to serve[/mks_pullquote]If the Legislature really wants to do something useful to control the rising cost of tuition for students, the best way to do that is to pass HB 1303 which would give them control over tuition. This is proper and appropriate as they are charged with funding Higher Education by the Constitution. Some would argue they already can control it based on that Constitution, but clarifying it in law is an excellent step as well. This bill passed the House; if you really care about the out of control tuition costs, lobby the Senate to pass this bill as well. Passage in that chamber would also prove they are serious about doing something substantial about a University System who simply has no regard for accountability, for the Legislature that funds them, for the taxpayers who provides that funding, and most importantly for the students they are supposed to serve.

Local Community Incentive Fund Grants

Senate Finance and Taxation

Lewis and Clark

10:15am

SB 2378 creates provisions for local community incentive funds and tax credits. The grant portion is best summarized by the below, which appears to be fueled by the tax credit portion:

CommTaxCredit

This is a lot of great, nice to do stuff…. but best funded by the private sector. The whole tax credit thing looks really neat, but it is simply another shell game where government moves money away from what they should be paying for into those things they should not be. Those that take advantage of the credit will simply have the burdens associated with them shifted onto those who do not take the credit.

If government is taking enough money from the taxpayers where they can afford to give out credits to some taxpayers, then they are taking too much. The best thing they can do then is simply ease the tax burden on all taxpayers, and allow them to do what they want with what more they are allowed to keep.

Wednesday, February 4th

After a slower day Tuesday, the pace appears to pick back up on Wednesday (at least from our perspective).

Medical Marijuana

House Human Services

Fort Union

9:00am

This is an interesting bill and a response to a recent trend in state legislation which is sweeping the country. HB 1430 would in essence allow for the consumption of cannabis in a pill form to provide relief for various medical ailments.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The war on drugs has been a government masquerade of trying to appear like they are doing something, when in reality they have accomplished nothing in this regard — perhaps even made things worse by pushing the drug trade underground where it has thrived instead of diminished.[/mks_pullquote]I would rather see an outright repeal of the ban on marijuana use, to include recreational. The war on drugs has been a government masquerade of trying to appear like they are doing something, when in reality they have accomplished nothing in this regard — perhaps even made things worse by pushing the drug trade underground where it has thrived instead of diminished. That is simply because there is a market for this product, and supply will follow demand.  Even law enforcement knows these attempts to stop the drug trade have been ineffective, but too much grant money is tied to the war on drugs, so they play along and collect checks.

Back to the matter at hand, we think this is a good start. If marijuana can help ease suffering, it is worth allowing. Even if we do not legalize pot for recreational consumption, legalizing it for medicinal purposes is the humane thing to do.

Firearms

House Judiciary

Prairie

Starts at 9:00am

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear three bills related to firearms on Wednesday:

  • HB 1219 changes up current timeframes for prohibitions to firearms ownership based off convictions
  • HB 1450 seeks to change several parts of current concealed carry laws.

One part of this bill which jumps out at me making a lot of sense is ending the prohibition for concealed carry of a firearm in a rest area. There currently are too many carve outs and special places which concealed carry is forbidden, and can lead to confusion and inconvenience in the exercise of 2nd Amendment rights. I sometimes can’t help but wonder if this isn’t intentional in nature, in an attempt to discourage people from exercising those rights. It also will clarify that Class 1 and Class 2 permits have the same privileges in the state.

  • HB 1457 puts in place a clearer procedure for disposal of firearms by law enforcement, which will in turn do a better job protecting the rightful owners (in the case of stolen goods) and innocent owners who had their firearms seized by law enforcement, yet were not involved in criminal activity themselves.  It will also require disposal of firearms at an auction.

Use of Drones by Law Enforcement

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]…the Senate killed it [a similar bill last year], citing concerns over possible impacts to UND’s Unmanned Aerial System Center of Excellence attempt to secure a drone test site in North Dakota … This concern was of course a bunch of hooey; it was a convenient excuse to ensure a bill which better ensured the privacy rights of our citizens lost out to the preferences of law enforcement[/mks_pullquote]The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 1328 later the same morning. This bill will require that law enforcement first get a warrant for use of a drone for surveillance purposes unless and emergency exists. A similar bill was introduced last session and passed the house before the Senate killed it, citing concerns over possible impacts to UND’s Unmanned Aerial System Center of Excellence attempt to secure a drone test site in North Dakota (one of the better whoppers ever served up at the Capital). This concern was of course a bunch of hooey; it was a convenient excuse to ensure a bill which better ensured the privacy rights of our citizens lost out to the preferences of law enforcement. Cops feeling inconvenienced with the rights of the citizens they serve seems to be common theme in this state.

No matter what, it will be interesting what excuse is offered in an attempt to kill the bill this time, now that the state was designated a test site.

Residency Requirements for Legislators

Senate Judiciary

Fort Lincoln

11:00am

One would think that if a legislator is elected to serve a district, they would live there right? It sort of backs up the whole “representative” part of representative democracy. But as you learned here on SAB, this isn’t always the case, and there are culprits on both sides of the political fence.

The truth is, all one needs to do is be a resident of a district as of the day of election. With the state’s loose residency laws, it is pretty easy to gain or lose residency in a district. Notwithstanding this fact, this is a good resolution which if passed will allow the electorate to change the Constitution and make it much more specific in this regard:

residency

I can’t think of any reason why such a measure would not pass. It makes a lot of sense to begin with, and it reinforces what many assume to be fact now — that their elected Legislator must live among the electorate who put them in office for their whole term.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]And if we have any Legislator voting against this or a similar measure, we have some definite issues with those we currently elect[/mks_pullquote]If this or a similar measure does not pass, then maybe its time we quit electing the Legislature from districts. Maybe instead we should just have everyone who wants to be a Senator or Representative throw their name in respective hats, and the top 24 and 47 vote getters (since we currently have half the seats up in each chamber every two years) across the state will be elected. Simply speaking, even in a state which is fickle to passing measures, this one should be a no-brainer or we are all in a lot of trouble.

And if we have any Legislator voting against this or a similar measure, we have some definite issues with those we currently elect.

Thursday, February 5th

Constitutional Conventions, Amendments, and Federal Budgets that are Balanced

The House Government and Veterans Affairs committee has a full day, starting at 8:00am in the Fort Union Room, relating to the calling by the states of an Article V Constitutional Convention, Constitutional Amendments, and entry of the state into a Balanced Budget Compact. Specific legislation to be heard is below:

  • HCR 3017 – Encourages Congress to call a convention for the purpose of passing an amendment which will empower the states to collectively countermand or repeal any federal law or ruling.
  • HCR 3015 – Encourages Congress to call a convention for the purpose of passing an amendment which requires a balanced budget
  • HB 1138 – Will allow the state to enter a Balanced Budget Compact with other states
  • HCR 3014 – A Resolution calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention of the states.
  • HCR 3016 – Authorizes a delegation from the state to attend a Constitutional Convention if called for the purposes of passing an amendment which will empower the states to collectively countermand or repeal any federal law or ruling
  • HB 1441 – Details the process for approving delegates to a Constitutional Convention

There are a few nuances to digest between the four pieces of legislation, but the basic philosophy is to amend our founding document either through Congressionally-initiated action or through a convention of the states authorized by Article V of the Constitution (which has never been done before — it was threatened, but Congress always acted on their own authority so the states didn’t roll over them) to reign in the federal government’s ever-expanding powers, as well as their ever-increasing spending.

A Balanced Budget Amendment needs to happen in this country. We simply can’t have a federal government that won’t live in a budget, unlike what the people it serves are supposed to live within. The 10th Amendment simply does not have the teeth it should, and a clearer amendment is needed putting in place a process in which the states can put the federal government back in check. However it happens really is not a huge concern of mine, but while the Article V process may go faster than the states ratifying an amendment through the Congressional process, I do worry that such a convention could not be restricted to a single purpose (as some may purport). either way, it is time to amend the Constitution and get the federal government back under control both in it’s power and spending.

Legacy Foundation

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River

9:00am

SB 2344 will, if passed, establish a foundation to oversee the state’s bloating Legacy Fund. While I would agree that a method needs to be in place to prioritize and approve spending out of this account, I don’t think the Legislature should be putting pressure on such a foundation to set up a scholarship program for all the state’s children (as this bill would do) for much of the same reasons mentioned above relating to Promise Grants.

Participation by State Employees in Interstate Organizations Without Legislative Approval

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River

2:15pm

This is one of those bills where you need to really know what the story behind the story is:

Interstate

That story behind the story relates to Common Core, and this bill is yet another battleground for that conflict this session. Specifically, the state (through DPI) entered into what is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as part of the required standardized testing under Common Core, at great expense to the state. Obviously, when you seek to take a lot of money out of the purse without consulting the body responsible for the purse, you can expect repercussions. This bill is one of them, and a rightful one in our opinion. The executive branch simply should not be able to make agreements on behalf of the state, which will result in public expenditures and changes to law (both the purview of the legislative branch), without the consent of the Legislature.

This bill seeks to reestablish powers that are supposed to be separate, but somehow lost that identity in the rush to jump on the Common Core train. The Legislature would be remiss if they did not reassert their authority in this regard.

Allowing State Employees on Defined Contribution Plans to Switch to Defined Benefit Plans

House Government and Veterans Affairs

Fort Union

2:30pm

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Frankly I am disappointed at the lack of commitment of the Legislature to take on the matter of pension reform — again. They have been aware this has been a concern for several sessions now. If this bill passes, it is quite clear they not only are not taking the situation with state pensions seriously, they simply don’t care[/mks_pullquote] Rob touched on this bill back when it was introduced. HB 1154 will allow state employees who are on defined contribution plans (which all of them should be, or at least all the new ones) to switch over to the defined benefit program (which most are on now) administered by the ND Public Employees Retirement System. With the current condition of the pension systems in our state, and the fact that they will default if we keep putting more and more people into this failed model, allowing those employees who are enrolled in defined contribution plans to switch over is not only a bad move — it’s downright stupid. This is a word I try to avoid using when fostering debate on legislation, but it is fitting in this occasion.

Frankly I am disappointed at the lack of commitment of the Legislature to take on the matter of pension reform — again. They have been aware this has been a concern for several sessions now. If this bill passes, it is quite clear they not only are not taking the situation with state pensions seriously, they simply don’t care.

Friday, February 6th

Flaring Restrictions

Senate Energy and Natural Resources

Fort Lincoln

8:00am

As if the challenges to the oil and gas industry recently were not enough, Senate Democrats (primarily from outside the oil patch of course) are looking to throw a few more challenges their way in the form of SB 2343. This bill, if passed, will among other things punish the industry for wells flaring 50,000 cubic feet or more a day. That is not a lot in the grand scheme of things, and regulations such as this don’t help producers decide to keep producing in the lean times we are experiencing now.

But perhaps that is the intention. The success of the oil industry in the state really has caused a lot of butthurt for many on the left. It has also taken attention off the east side of the state, which adds insult to injury. Thankfully, this one likely will not pass.

Provisional Ballots

Senate Government and Veterans Affairs

Missouri River

9:45am

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Somehow however, I feel they [students] really are capable of figuring our what they need to do (and then doing it) if voting truly is important to them[/mks_pullquote]SB 2353 will, if passed, allow for provisional ballots in North Dakota elections. Introduced by the District 42 delegation, which primarily represents the UND area in Grand Forks, one would think this bill is aimed at students who can’t get their act together to ensure their eligibility to vote. As Rob wrote about and I agree, to think they are incapable of taking care of the requirements which surround the right of the vote is actually quite insulting to the students themselves. If they really are that clueless about what actually are some pretty simple requirements (remember, North Dakota does not have registration, and maybe it is time it should), then perhaps they should choose not to vote and cancel out the votes of those who actually prepared themselves for the responsibility. Somehow however, I feel they really are capable of figuring our what they need to do (and then doing it) if voting truly is important to them.

The concept of a provisional ballot may not be a bad one. Honest mistakes happen, like you left your ID at work by accident and the poll is about to close. Why not have a method in place where you can cast a ballot which gets set to the side until you can prove you are who you say you are, and you really do live where you claim to live? If you can prove it the next day, it gets counted.

The problem with this bill is this — all you need to do to prove you are who you are and live where you live is to fill out a post card and send it in:

Provo Ballot

Oh wow, they have to certify eligibility to vote under oath — on a post card. I am pretty sure that won’t stop voter fraud… just a guess on my part, but I am sure it is a good one. This bill completely defeats the purpose of having an ID which proves you are who you say you are and live where you claim to live. I would be more open to the idea of a provisional ballot if you actually had to show up with such proof the next day, at the auditors office, where it could be examined to be certain. This is what is best for our system of voting, and for all who participate in it.

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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