I haven’t reviewed all of the legislation that was passed this session but I think there are some remarkable achievements legislators should get credit for. The following list is not necessarily indicative of the importance of each issue but I think they are significant.
First I believe putting the abortion issue in front of the voters was the proper thing to do. I commend Governor Dalrymple for supporting the legislature’s decision. Whether or not all three measures should pass I’ll leave to the voters. For decades the legislature has debated the issue with both sides making strong arguments for their position. Each bill, over the years, has had a different slant to it but it has always gotten down to the philosophical stand of the antagonists. Personally I was always pro-life but to be honest I was getting tired of being beat up over it. I think some legislators on the other side of the issue feel the same. It was another “no win” exercise that you knew wasn’t going to go away any time soon.
If the media wanted a real boost in income they just got it. The forces on both sides will marshal their forces and the amount of money that will be spent within North Dakota advocating for their particular positions will probably surpass any issue ever put before the voters. Most of that money will come from beyond the borders of North Dakota because this is a bigger issue then abortion.
Both sides know that when the voters get done it will probably end up going all the way to the US Supreme Court. I’m sure all of you attorneys are going to give me a lecture on cert and a lot of legal jargon but I am speaking as if I was an average North Dakotan. Some of you have suggested that the courts could step in on the question of even having the issue on the ballot. If they dare, which I don’t think they will, I would hope that the hue and cry would be so loud that activist’s judges would never get US Senate ratification for a very long time. I want to know if the courts are going to come down on the side of the state’s right to regulate activity within its borders. Abortion is a medical procedure that has been regulated for years. We can argue about parental notification, trimesters and on and on, but does the court think that the fifty states can regulate abortion or not. Actually they have all ready said the states can but within certain limitations. What we are really testing is the state’s voter’s prerogatives. Either way I hope the issue is put to bed for the North Dakota legislature for quite some time. That might be too much to ask.
Secondly after decades of being whip sawed by the North Dakota Public Employees Assoc. over defined contribution over defined benefit plans the legislature has finally bit the bullet. The NDPEA in reality only represents a minority of state employees. It is about time state employees are given choice on their preferred plan for their retirement. As SAB pointed out it will be interesting to see the statistics when the next legislative session meets. I’m betting that after reading the horror stories of cities like Stockton and Detroit some will prefer owning their money.
Thirdly I think that the money sent to oil producing counties was well spent. I just hope the political leaders in those jurisdictions use it judiciously. If they squander the opportunity to mitigate the impacts of production by building recreational centers I’ll be disappointed. They need law enforcement facilities, decent roads and infrastructure to handle the situation. There are those that will argue that recreational facilities are part of the mix. I don’t think that is something the legislature should buy into as it is opening another Pandora’s Box. I’ll have more to say about a stated owned marina in another post.
Last of all the way the Fargo Diversion was handled was disappointing. The final version as I read it is a good compromise. It was the tone of the debate that was disheartening. I have always felt that we as a legislature should pull together when our citizens are facing problems that are insurmountable on a local level. When Devils Lake, Grand Fork and Minot had floods or the western counties needed hay after a blizzard the legislature as a whole ignored the infighting and regional interests coming to the assistance of the affected communities. Sadly that tone was missing in this particular debate.
As I said in my book I was proud to be part of the legislature. In the main the people I served with were good people concerned about making good public policy. We made some mistakes but generally the voters were satisfied with our decisions. I will be pointing out things I think this session got wrong but that in no way is meant to denigrate the quality of the people you sent to Bismarck.