And for those of you who stuck around past that overly cheerful opening GIF, this is the North Dakota United Legislative Report, our weekly compendium of updates from the Capitol, direct from our (work) horses’ mouths. The mouths in question are our President Nick Archuleta and director of public affairs Tom Gerhardt. And these are their stories:

Sorry about the awkward start. I’m really bad at remembering to signal them when we’re live. Nick and Tom are total professionals; I am less so.

Now I’m going to write out some of the stuff they just told you in the video!

SB 2172 – “Guns in Public Places” Bill

So, if you’ve been watching this space for the last few weeks, you know that there was originally a bill that originated in the House to create a Class 1 “exempt” license for concealed carry of firearms in public places. That bill was defeated in the Senate, and we were glad to see that happen, but we told you it might come back in an amendment on another bill. Sure enough, it was tacked onto SB 2172 and again passed easily through the House. The Senate was a different story … “We do know that the sponsors of that bill didn’t like having this amendment attached to it,” President Archuleta said.

On Friday, a conference committee met to discuss this bill, and lawmakers from the House ultimately backed away from the Class 1 exempt provisions, turning that part into a study. North Dakota United was one of nearly two dozen education, religious and other groups that joined together to draft a letter to legislators, airing our concerns with the bill.

“At the end of their second conference committee hearing, they decided to take out the most defensive part of that language and turn that part into a study,” President Archuleta said. “Still something that we think needs some tweaking, one of the things is they would make a non-public school a political subdivision. Well, there’s some problems with that. They’re right now trying to find some common language that they can use that is acceptable to both sides.”

More information to come, but do know that your voices were being heard on this bill.

Teacher Licensure Bills

We have less positive news to report on two bills that will ultimately lower the standards of teacher licensure in our state. HB 1531 allows school administrators to request the Education Standards and Practices Board (ESPB) to issue “permits” to unlicensed teachers if they can’t find a qualified applicant to teach non-core subject areas. This excludes elementary or special education, science, language arts and social studies. The tenure for permit holders will be limited to three years, and they would be required to have a high school diploma, and a minimum of 4,000 hours in “relevant work experience in the subject area to be taught.” Additionally, this legislation “sunsets” in 2023. So, it’s a bandage approach to the larger issue of recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas.

HB 1531, as amended in conference committee, passed the House, 81-10, then was approved by the Senate, 34-13.

And then there was HB 1287. This “alternative teacher certification” bill amends the part of Century Code that lays out the rules for receiving a teaching license to allow out-of-state (online) “alternative teacher certification programs” (please note my passive-aggressive use of quotation marks, here) to “certify” teachers for licensure. And in-state “alternative teacher certification programs,” too, but there aren’t any here.

This bill also “expires” in 2023. Another bandage approach.

“It’s quite a bit sad, and I’ll tell you why,” President Archuleta said. “You might think of these alternative licensure bills as being  as proponents tell all the time, ‘We need this to fix the teacher shortage in North Dakota. We need to go to these extraordinary means to fix the teacher shortage.’ Well, when you take a look at these things, whether it’s alternative teacher licensure or diverting public money to private schools, all of that has an impact on teachers and on the profession. So you have some folks who went to school for four years, or five years, got a teaching degree, worked hard about it, learning the art and science of teaching. Now they’ll be teaching next to somebody who watched some videos on their computer screen, took a test that we don’t know what’s in the test (and it doesn’t belong to the state of North Dakota) and they can apply for a teacher license, or in the case of 1531, it’s not even a license, it’s a permit.

“So all you need is a high school diploma to teach in some non-core areas and frankly, when teachers who’ve gone through the rigorous training process see that, they think, ‘Well, what is my degree worth? Why should these people be allowed to teach when I had to do all this extra work?’ Frankly, we’re against that for that reason. That only serves to exacerbate the teacher shortage in North Dakota because it takes away from the prestige of teaching. … So, people really have to ask themselves, ‘Do I want to choose the teaching profession?’ What we do need to have is an adult conversation about what causes the teacher shortage and what we can do to remedy it.”

SB 2006 – “Income Tax Elimination” Bill

Speaking of bad ideas come back to life, there’s this income tax buy down proposal that just. Will. Not. Go away.

It started in the House as HB 1530, and passed there without much resistance. Then the Senate buried it, 41-4, back in March. Done, right? Nope, just like Jon Snow, this bad idea came back from the dead. It, too, was tacked on as an amendment to the Tax Department’s budget bill, SB 2006. Will the Senate change their minds entirely and get it through this time? Nah, probably not.

“North Dakota is not a very high income tax state in the first place,” President Archuleta said. “My biggest problem with it is it doesn’t exactly live up to what I think the Legacy Fund should be for. It should be for an extraordinary legacy for generations to come. I don’t know about getting rid of a tax that nobody really complains about a whole lot is that legacy.”

SB 2265 – K-12 Schools Funding Bill

There have been some past legislative sessions in which the K-12 schools funding bill has been contentious and has drawn session out longer as two sides fight to find compromise. That’s not really the case this year, with the House and the Senate seemingly in agreement over school funding. However, this session, the other-side rumblings are coming from the executive branch. “Right now, SB 2265 is the K-12 funding bill, and we do know that the Governor’s Office is having a little heartburn over the fact that it’s not going to draw some of these smaller schools on to the funding formula as quickly as perhaps they would like,” President Archuleta said. “But, that bill is what it is. We’ll see what the Governor has. Maybe there will be something that comes back that makes the difference. We’ll see, but that’s the only real heartburn in that budget.”

NDPERS Funding Bill

We mentioned this last week, but the ND Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) funding bill, SB 2023, is currently set to eliminate a very important position in that office. And we’d rather that it didn’t.

“There hasn’t been much action on that bill,” President Archuleta said. “The problem with that bill is that it removes a fill-time position, that particular position happens to be the one that deals with Medicare Part D which is the prescription drug plan. PERS wouldn’t be able to administer that anywhere because they wouldn’t have the person there to do it. And then 9,000 retirees in North Dakota would have to go out onto the open market and try to find a plan on their own. Frankly, there are some plans out there that aren’t as good as others, and PERS has been trusted for a long time by our retirees to present them with the best options. … We’re hoping that the Senate will be able to put this back in.”

The End?

By this time next week, the 66th Legislative Assembly should be over, finished, completed, adjourned, sine die. The plan is to be done by Saturday. I’ll have one last Legislative Report next week, to wrap up all the action that happens in the final moments. Until then, I have tried to be Kelly Hagen, your ND United Communications Director. Let’s talk again soon, alright?