I’m posting this newest North Dakota United Legislative Report to our website on Tuesday, April 16, which is day 68 of the 66th Legislative Assembly at the Capitol in Bismarck. By state law, the legislative session can only run 80 days, and both chambers’ majority leaders have said they would like to finish in 75. So, we’re possibly within sight of the end of this thing.

Can’t hardly wait.

I’ve got a video presentation to kick us off this week! That’s good news, right? NDU President Nick Archuleta and public affairs director Tom Gerhardt were back on Facebook Live this past Friday for our NDU Legislative Update broadcast. Let’s watch that now, shall we?

Fantastic! Thanks, Nick and Tom, for setting the table. Now let’s feast on the written word!

SB 2172 – Gun bill amendment

Well, we unfortunately must start this Legislative Report with more legislative talk on how to get guns into schools and public places. HB 1206, for those following along at home, was a bill that would create a new subsection to state law “relating to a class 1 exempt firearm license” and “to possession of a concealed firearm or dangerous weapon at a public gathering.” It passed the House, 84-9, but was defeated in the Senate, 11-36. Usually, that’s when bad ideas end, but not so with HB 1206! The bill was resurrected as an amendment to SB 2172, and passed by the House, 70-23. Now it’s headed back to the Senate.

“It took this innocuous bill and made it into something really terrible,” President Archuleta said. “Our members have told us for a very long time that they don’t want guns in their workplaces, they don’t want guns in schools, they don’t want guns at events that are being sponsored by universities or high schools or even elementary schools for that matter. There just isn’t really any need for this to be such a controversy … it basically takes away the rights of administrators to say, ‘We don’t want guns in schools.'”

Nick sums it up best: “We believe those decisions are best left for those entities.”

HB 1287 – “Alternative Teacher Licensure” Bill Amendment

This is the bill to allow “alternative teacher certification” online. It passed in the House, 74-19, got sent over to the Senate, where it was amended and passed, 35-12. When they sent it back to the House, they refused to concur to the changes that were made by the Senate, so it is now in conference committee. Rep. Mark Owens of Grand Forks is on the conference committee, and introduced a new amendment onto the bill Friday, which would allow for in-state “alternative licensing” companies, in addition to those out of state.

“We stand firmly against it, of course,” President Archuleta said. “This is what the (American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence) bill is. I would say they have a spotty record, at best, to where they exist. We think that these alternative licensure things don’t really attack and get at the root causes of the teacher shortage, and in fact, they tend to exacerbate it because they cheapen teacher licenses. And people are saying, ‘Why should I invest x amount of dollars in my education to become a teacher when just anybody can get out there and do it?'”

HB 1531 – “Non-Core Subject Teacher Licensure” Bill

We have an update to share about the other teacher licensure bill, HB 1531, which also passed the House, went to the Senate, got changed and sent back, and the House refused to concur, so it’s in conference committee, too. “It’s another ‘anybody can teach bill,’ President Archuleta said, “and we all know that’s not the case because there is an art and a science to teaching and if you don’t have both the art and the science, you are not going to be particularly successful. This bill was put in to make it easier for smaller communities who can’t afford evidently to attract folks that go through this particular licensure. The Education Standards and Practices Board, which licenses teachers and also approves the curriculum for colleges of education in our state, was firmly against this bill, as they were with HB 1287. So they ended up changing this language from a license to a permit, so it’s a permit to teach.”

You know what’s trick about that? ESPB can’t issue permits. So that’s another thing they’ll have to deal with in an amendment. Both conference committees dealing with these teacher-licensure bills will need to meet again to iron out all these problems. We’d wish them luck, but we oppose both measures. So we wish them nothing, I guess.

SB 2265 – K-12 School Funding

A new hiccup has developed in the legislation, SB 2265, that provides per-pupil funding to school districts.

“The way the legislation reads now, it’s called ‘basing.'” President Archuleta explained. “We have over 50% of the schools in North Dakota aren’t on the funding formula, and as a result, you have some districts that are getting $25,000 per student, and others that are getting less than the $9,646 that the law mandates. … I think the Governor’s office would like to see those smaller districts that aren’t on the formula brought on the formula sooner than what the legislation allows for. I think you are going to see some very serious discussions about that particular point in the coming days.”

NDPERS Budget

Speaking of hiccups, the budget bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System (NDPERS) has left out funding needed for one very necessary FTE position in their state agency. “The position that will be taken out is the individual that is responsible for the Medicaid Part D requirements, so we’ll have about 9,000 retirees in North Dakota out on the market, looking for prescription health benefits that PERS helps them with now. There are consequences to all these actions. I spoke with one of the appropriators, and he said, ‘Well, won’t they just assign this to another individual in their office?’ They can’t. Their staff right now is bare bones, and they can’t be taking on a lot more work because — and this is what we’ve been saying this all along — with all these budget cuts that happened in the course of the last two biennium, there isn’t any more fat to cut. We have fewer people doing more work with less help, and that is starting to show.”

So, yeah. We’d really like for them to cough up the funds needed to retain this position, on behalf of those retirees who depend on NDPERS’s assistance with their health benefits. Please and thank you.

That’s it for this Report! I am, in all likelihood, your NDU communications director Kelly Hagen, and would love to hear from any of you with your questions on any legislation that we’ve seen come up during this session. Just click on my name up there ⇑, and you can e-mail me, nice and easy. Or send an e-mail to Nick or Tom by clicking on their respective (and respected!) names.