Bills For Balanced Budget, Oil Exports, Pensions And DUI Punishments Filed

Last night a ton of new bills were filed for the 2015 legislative sessions (and some of you were complaining that they weren’t being posted).

I’ve written about a couple of the more interesting bills this morning (allowing concealed carry for elected officials on public property, $5,000 given to each child born in ND) but here are some of the others that have caught my eye as I read through them.

dgschaibleSB2153Close off records of teachers accused of crimes

Prime Sponsor: Senator Don Schaible, R-Mott

North Dakota has had some high-profile criminal cases involving teachers in the last year. Susan Duursma, for instance, who was a teacher in Bismarck who had sex with one of her students. West Fargo teacher Aaron Knodel – a “teacher of the year” award winner – was arrested on similar charges and will face trial in March.

No doubt these charges resulted in a lot of requests for records pertaining to these public officials, which are open under North Dakota law. This bill would shut down access to any records pertaining to criminal charges, however, until the charges have been settled in court.

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HB1164 – Ignition locks for people convicted of DUIagmaragos

Prime Sponsor: Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot

Currently North Dakota has something called the 24/7 Sobriety Program which require repeat DUI offenders check in twice a day with law enforcement for breathalyzer checks. I’ve never been much convinced of the efficacy of this sort of law. For one thing, it’s a big hardship on people who may be struggling with alcohol problems and hardly need something interfering with their ability to get to work, all for no demonstrable evidence that this reduces drunk driving accidents or fatalities.

For another, it’s a big strain on law enforcement resources too, which I suspect was the impetus for this bill which allows the state to mandate the use of ignition locks in lieu of the 24/7 sobriety program.

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jehaakHB1154 – Allow public employees with defined contribution pensions to switch to defined benefit pensions

Prime Sponsor: Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown

Defined benefit pension plans are time bombs. They obligate the state, and thus the taxpayers, to rigid pension payments for retired public employees no matter what. In the aftermath of the 2008/2009 economic downturn defined benefit pension plans around the country were in hot water, which prompted many states to look at other options like defined contribution plans which have the state making a set contribution to an investment fund the employee has control over.

Here in North Dakota, the PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) is only 62 percent funded according to the last audit. The TFFR (Teachers Fund For Retirement) was only 60.9 percent funded. That’s a problem.

Yet despite mathematical reality, unions hate these reforms, including those in North Dakota. The state’s public worker and teacher unions recently merged into North Dakota United specifically to fight pension reform. No doubt they love this bill which would give public workers who opted for a defined contribution plan a chance to go back to the PERS defined benefit plan.

I’m generally for people being able to choose their own financial destiny, but not at the expense of state solvency. North Dakota ought to be moving away from defined benefit pensions as quickly as possible, not letting more workers sign up.

HCR3008 – Resolution calling for eased restrictions on crude oil exportsrstreyle

Prime Sponsor: Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot

Currently domestic producers of petroleum are largely held hostage by federal law. Domestic oil refiners have a captive market, because by law domestic oil producers can’t export their unrefined product. Which is a bit like telling farmers they can’t export their crops but only sell them to food manufacturers here in the United States.

Clearly, not a good thing for the producers.

North Dakota’s two largest and most important industries are oil and agriculture. I suspect that if the federal government were blocking crop exports, lawmakers would act. Since the federal government is blocking unrefined oil exports, I suspect the legislature will get behind this bill which calls on the federal government to drop the restrictions.

bskarpholHB1138 – Interstate compact for a balanced budget amendment

Prime Sponsor: Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga

This bill would authorize North Dakota entering an interstate compact with other states to convene a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment for the federal government.

You can read more about it at the Goldwater Institute.

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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