I hope this column finds you well. I am sure it will find you busy doing important work on behalf of the citizens of North Dakota.
The legislature is in full swing and there is no shortage of bills of concern to the members of North Dakota United. As I write this, all bills have been submitted in the regular order and we find ourselves tracking just north of 120 of them. Here are a few that I have provided testimony either in favor of or in opposition to:
- SB 2247 a bill that lists 16 “divisive concepts” to be avoided in discourse in the college classroom. This is a bad bill in that it would regulate free speech between adults on university. The Senate Education Committee has this bill before it and will make amendments, none that will actually improve the fundamental flaws of this bill.
- There are a few bills related to bringing retired teachers back into the system, the one we support does not negatively impact the Teacher Fund for retirement (TFFR). The bill, HB 1219, both incentivizes teachers to return to the profession and also to remain teaching. Section 7 of HB 1219 calls for allows a retired teacher to return to the classroom while their retirement benefits are suspended. After they’ve re-retired, their benefits are re-calculated, and they get a higher benefit. This is good for the returning teacher, and the TFFR.
- There are a few bills related to “parental rights.” SB 2260 is one such bill and was heard recently in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Though the ND Supreme Court has ruled consistently since the mid 1940’s that parents are the prime decision maker for their minor children, many in the legislature have bought into the national narrative that parents need to have veto power over any curriculum that they may find “harmful.” Our attorney has called the bill a “lawyer bonanza” as the bill allows parents to sue school districts and teachers for their perceived harm. More on this to come.
- We are also opposing HB 1040 and HB 1486. These bills, if enacted, will close the PERS DB Retirement Plan to new hires on January 1 2025. This will cost $5.5B over the next 20 years. It is risky, irresponsible, and short sided, in addition to being super-expensive. It relies on future legislatures to uphold the funding of this boondoggle. We like SB 2239, introduced by Republican Senators Sean Cleary and Dick Dever, and Rep. Josh Boschee. It provides the necessary funding to put the fund on a trajectory to fully funded status while preserving the plan for future public employees. Win-win!
- We also support HB 1240, a bill that makes teacher candidates in their final two years of college eligible for skilled workforce student loan repayment and skilled workforce scholarships. We support HB 1304 which increases the supply of special education teachers while ensuring quality by allowing individuals to complete all their SPED coursework and student teaching in their first two years to receive a permit to teach from the Education Standards and Practices Board. After they’ve completed the other required non-major related coursework, they would be awarded a teacher license.
This is getting long so I’d best sign off for now.
Please remember to join us in Bismarck for the 2023 Lobby Day on February 19 and 20!