Matt Evans: Civics Test Legislation May Create Conflict With Homeschooling Law

The new legislative session has arrived.  Now is the time to pay attention to what bills are hitting the floor, and to proactively communicate with your representatives about the issues that are important to you, and how some of the bills under consideration may please or displease you.

The people who serve in our legislature have a variety of talent levels and motivations, but so far as I am aware, none of them are superhuman.  They often rely on testimony, both from experts and constituents, to help them craft, modify, and conscientiously vote on the legislation before them.

Writing good legislation is challenging.  No single human can fit the entire body of law in their heads simultaneously.  One consequence of this reality is that the applicable law on a given topic may be confusing, contradictory, or incomplete.  Every newly introduced section of legislation may create conflicts or contradictions with something that already exists.

As a citizen interested in building a better state, it is incumbent upon you to try and stay abreast of bills working their way through the system.  You may have a unique perspective to offer – perhaps you are impacted by an issue that is currently under revision.  If so, contact your legislators to express your support and concerns.

You can see what bills are being introduced in the 2015 session by visiting these links:

House Bills
Senate Bills

When communicating with a legislator, you should assume that they are operating with good intentions.  Do not assume that they specifically crafted a bill or a vote to ruin your life.  Do not assume they know more or less about the topic than you do.  One of the best things you can do is to ask a specific question about what the impact of the legislation will be.

For instance, let’s consider HB 1087, the bill to require all high school students to pass the US citizenship test.

The original bill text, which was provided in the original SayAnythingBlog article, is here.

One thing I noticed when reading this bill is that it specifically said the testing requirement applies to homeschoolers, in section 1.2.a.(4)  – line 19.

That’s interesting, because if we head over to title 15.23 of the century code, we can see that homeschooling families in North Dakota can, under law, be exempted from any standardized tests (Section 15.1-23-09).

It would appear that HB1087 creates a legal conflict with current law as it pertains to homeschoolers.

At this point, if you were a homeschool advocate, and were tired of constant legislative attacks on your rights, you could get angry, and send a nasty email to the people who introduced this legislation.  But let’s dig a bit further:

As it turns out, HB1087 has been a busy bill this week, and has already been amended.  The latest version of the bill text is located here.

You’ll note that the bill text has changed.  The text that applies to homeschoolers is now on line 23, and has been amended to reference section 15.1-23-17, which covers the issuance of high school diplomas by state agency to homeschooled children.  HB1087 would appear to now be more narrowly targeted to not apply to all homeschoolers – just ones who want state issued diplomas.

If you are a homeschooling family but want your child’s diploma to have the name of your school district or county on it, 15.1-23-17 applies to you, and, presumably, the civics testing requirement also applies to you.

However, since 1087 introduces a new standardized test, and doesn’t mention the home school test exemption listed in 15.1-23-09, in my mind, the legal question still remains: do homeschoolers who want state diplomas under 15.1-23-17 have to take the civics test or not?

This is a specific and fair question to ask your representatives.  You should ask it in two basic forms:

  1. On the topic of requiring homeschoolers who want district-issue diplomas to take this civics test, despite their test-exempt status, what do you think the bill’s effect is?
  2. Do you, as my representative, agree or disagree with that effect?

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that the people behind this bill simply aren’t experts on home schooling law, and they haven’t adequately thought about the interplay between testing objections and a new testing requirement.  Or, it could be that they are aware of what they are doing and are purposefully adding a required test to certain homeschool students.  In my experience, it is better to start by asking questions before assigning motives – even if you have some justified suspicions.

One frustrating aspect of this bill in particular is that it has already passed the house.  If there is truly an “oops” in the bill, it is now more difficult to fix.  Here is how your representative voted.

(spoiler alert: Mooney was the only NAY vote, about 8 other people were absent)

At this point, if you ask your representative about this bill, there’s not much they can do about it.  However, if you have questions or concerns about it, now would be an excellent time to ask your Senators.

There are a number of topics that are being impacted in surprising ways already this session.  For instance, a bill that is trying to make birth and death records more trustworthy may make getting birth certificates for home births effectively impossible in North Dakota.  If home births are important to you, make sure your representatives understand your concerns.

(That bill, btw, is HB1116)

If you know there are certain topics that are important to you, you can use this page to do a topic search.

You can type a different keyword into the search box.  You can also change the drop down box to target the search at different years or document types.

As much as the nation gears up for political sportsmanship in November, and then loses interest immediately after the election results are in, for us, now is the real time to get engaged and stay involved.

After all, we’re supposed to be a nation of laws, not men.

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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