LegitSlater: Legislative Scorecard 2015 Primer

While the 64th Legislative Assembly is slated to begin next week, the SAB War Room has been running three shifts daily going through every line of every prefiled bill. Christmas dinners were missed, and personal hygiene was neglected in order to stay on top of all the proposed legislation our elected officials (and more to the point – state agencies and boards) has proposed for debate starting on January 6th.

OK, it didn’t quite happen that way, but the list is being developed. Quite honestly, this session’s batch of prefiles isn’t exactly the most exciting compilation of proposed lawmaking ever seen. According to some in the Assembly, the numbers of prefiles are down compared to other sessions, and I am sure that can all be ultimately tied back in large part to the price of a barrel of oil.

But there are some bills (called marker bills) that have jumped out, and have made our preliminary cut for vote ranking during 2015. Before getting into that, here is a brief refresher and disclaimer.

First, the purpose of this scorecard is to guage overall trends on a liberal to conservative spectrum. This is why both parties are scored, instead of just the NDGOP for example, and why they are scored together instead of separately. Quite honestly, it isn’t much of a secret that being a republican in ND doesn’t mean you are a conservative. The opposite unfortunately seems to be the rule. But, we can’t know that without setting up a baseline to at least get in the ballpark. While our system isn’t perfect, it does give a good feel for the philosophical foundation of both houses, plus the individual members which make up each.

Picking a manageable yet representative set of “markers” from the hundreds to be introduced this session was no easy task. We will generally avoid appropriations bills, because the sheer complexity of each one requires a full time staff (which we don’t have) to attend the multiple hearings that accompany each in order to determine what the “right” vote should be. Don’t be surprised, however, if a few make the list as we continue to develop it, simply because of the sheer absurdity of some spending which gets proposed in this state.

We generally will select markers which address the commonly accepted conservative ideals of respect for Life; protection, preservation and expansion of Liberty; the Pursuit of Happiness through limited government; and Responsible Government through reinforcing and improving accountability and transparency, while decreasing expansion. I am not expecting too many bills this session pertaining to Life, but you never know. As for the others, I feel pretty good we will get a diverse batch to sift through.

Right now, a portion of the initial list we have going into the first week of the session is as follows, along with the initial vote we are hoping to see from each legislator:

HB 1026 relating to Ginsing. I guess I didn’t know this was a contentious issue, but we will follow it if only out of curiosity. Honestly, we can’t say if we want a Yea or Nay here

HB 1030 on mandatory sentencing. Yea is the way we lean on this, if anything to right size the numbers of incarcerated in the system plus allow judges to truly examine the merits of each case and apply punishment accordingly

HB 1035 would study the state’s health care delivery system. Yea is our take. In the age of Obamacare, this is an issue that requires continuous detailed study

HB 1043 will prohibit tuition increases at two year institutions. Yea is our vote because we need to start somewhere on cost containment in Higher Education. This is a good start which may help them prioritize their spending (if our legislators don’t cave on the concept and simply give them more money from the treasury)

HB 1051 on email services and retention for Higher Education. Unless you have not been reading this blog for the past few years, you can pretty much guess why we want a Yea vote here.

HB 1078 on e-cigarette sales to minors. Nay is the way here, simply because to us it appears to be a law looking for a real problem to address, running under the cover of “but it is for the kids”.

HB 1084 would eliminate the ability of Law Enforcement to stop you simply because your “crime” is driving along a certain road, i.e. the DUI checkpoint. Saturation patrolling is a more productive option to enforce DUI laws anyways, and no one should ever be stopped without reasonable suspicion. Yea is the right thing to do here.

HB 1085 will require agencies to report in more detail the impacts federal funds have on their operations. This is a responsible bill that will give the legislature a better feel for decisions they may have to make in the future should the federal government finally figure out they don’t have any money, and they need to cut back. Yea

HB 1138 would support the state entering an interstate compact for a balanced federal budget. This is a no-brainer Yea

SB 2076 will direct a study on the proposed Fargo diversion, specifically “The study must focus on the impacts in the area outside the area recognized by the army corps of engineers for which mitigation is required”. This appears, at least on the surface, to mean that the legislature wants to quantify diversion impacts outside of Fargo. This is a Yea vote. For too long Fargo has sucked all the oxygen out of the room on this issue because, well… they are Fargo and in their minds they are all who matter. There are plenty of other voices that deserve to be heard, and more importantly, taken into consideration on this debate. ALL property owners are important.

SB 2080 focuses on many education issues, but our primary concern is dumping more money into early childhood learning (aka head start) programs which have produced nothing substantial for what has been spent – unless government funded babysitting is your definition of something substantial. Nay.

SB 2107 addresses strengthening human trafficking laws on the books. We have had a good debate on this blog about the merits of legalization of prostitution, but putting that aside, human trafficking is an increasing concern. What two consenting adults do is their business, but unfortunately too much trafficking concerns those who are not adults, or who are not consenting. Yea.

SB 2134 would allow the University System to end run our open records laws by exempting all records which may be used in the development of performance evaluations. This could very easily be every record if it passes. This is an easy Nay if one really cares about transparency in government.

This list is not inclusive – we only wanted to give you a thumbnail of what we will be grading your elected officials on. It only looks at prefiles, and it doesn’t include each one of those we have scheduled for examination. These prefiles and the ones not highlighted above may not make the final cut either. Also, there will be plenty of bills to come once the session kicks off which will be added. For example, Common Core will be debated, and honestly knowing what we know today, we will be looking for the Legislature to back us out of this thing — if for any other reason than it is yet another initiative under a federal cloak which won’t work… like every other one that has preceded it. It’s time to say enough.

Stay tuned. I am sure there are plenty of bills to come which will be interesting to watch.

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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