NDU Crossover Report — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

It’s halftime for the 65th Legislative Assembly, but unlike Super Bowl 51, Lady Gaga will not be performing.

(I’m always glad to belt out a tune, if you need. — editor’s note)

For one thing, we can’t afford it. The state budget is the big story of the first half and will be the central story of the second half. Money is the bottom line, and it’s at a premium. Until our next budget forecast is released March 9, we won’t know how dire the situation will be for NDU members and all North Dakotans. Sales tax collections were down in January — $40 milllion off the revised forecast. That is cause for concern.

With that said, there have been great successes. SB 2186, the pilot program to allow schools to build upon education innovation, is one of the highlights. The bill was introduced by Sen. Nicole Poolman, and carried by NDU member Sen. Erin Oban. The bill will help ignite and release the creativity of teachers and learners alike across North Dakota.

SB 2243 is another strong step in the right direction for education in North Dakota. It allows for student loans to be paid, up to $25,000 over three years for new teachers if they work in a geographical location that has a teacher shortage, a critical need subject, or both. It was introduced by Senate Education Chairman Donald Schaible.

There are multiple other bills you can read more about listed below that we feel good about heading into the second half of the session, including: HB 1162 (competition between government and private industry), HB 1168 (would have restricted compensation for public employees attending legislative meetings), HB 1382 (bill turned into study that would have established vouchers in state), HB 1432 (a bill that would have killed standards drafted by North Dakota teachers), SB 2030 (keeps NDU on Teacher Fund for Retirement Board), SB 2180 (stopped move to refuse federal funding to local school districts) and SB 2250 (provides early childhood education).

Multiple gun bills were introduced including one to allow guns in schools (HB 1310) and a second to allow guns in government buildings (HB 1278). NDU is not against guns. We support School Resource Officers carrying weapons. The language in the bills introduces allows anyone who meets limited training requirements to carry concealed guns.

Collectively, we need to keep our eyes on the ball. Governor Burgum’s budget proposal called for public employees to pay 5 percent of their health insurance premium. While that was not introduced in either the House or the Senate, it could still come up before the end of the session. (And you can still send a letter to your legislators, telling them public employees don’t deserve a cut in take-home pay by clicking here! — editor’s note) Remember, just because something failed in one chamber does not mean it will not live again by the end of the session.

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HB 1023
PERS Budget
Position: Oppose new amendments
Outcome: Passed, 76–15

HB 1023 proposes a major change to how PERS is governed. An 80+ page amendment changes the current operation to a PERS advisory retirement board, with the governor appointing an executive director. The amendments have never had a hearing, thus no public input. We believe the amendments put government in a tenuous position, as fiduciary of both PERS and State of North Dakota.

Thirdly, the PERS Board loses autonomy and the legislation injects an unhealthy amount of legislative politics into an area that works great now. And finally, where changes like this are in play (like in Alaska) the government has used its authority to change to a defined-contribution retirement plan, from a defined benefits plan.

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HB 1029
Acceptance of Federal Funds, Regulatory Requirements on State Government
Position: Monitor in second half, due to an amendment
Outcome: Passed, 82–10

HB 1029 says each state agency must go through a checklist before accepting federal funding, including if the funding subjects the state to undue oversight or regulation.

President Nick Archuleta testified against part of this bill, which initially included higher education.

Our biggest concern with the bill in its original form was how it would hurt higher ed faculty receiving federal grants. We were able to get higher ed removed but will continue to monitor it to make sure they do not get put back in.

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House Bill 1162
Relating to Competition Between Government and Private Industry
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Turned into a study; passed, 83–8

HB 1162 looks at competition between government and private industry. We were pleased to see this turned into a study that calls for determining where government competition impacts businesses and industries.

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House Bill 1168
Restricting Compensation and Travel Reimbursement for Public Employees Attending Legislative Meetings
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed, 86–5

This bill would have forced public employees to use vacation and to pay for their own travel expenses to attend legislative meetings, unless they were providing testimony. We believe our dedicated public employees attend these hearings and meetings to better understand and perform their jobs.

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House Bill 1246
State Employees Claims of Employment Discrimination
Position: Support
Outcome: Passed, 62–25

HB 1246, introduced by Rep. George Keiser, calls for a streamlining the grievance process by allowing an employee to bypass his or her supervisor and go to the Department of Labor and Human Rights or the Federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The employee also has the right to waive the employer’s and division’s grievance processes, and take the case to district court.

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House Bill 1264
Non-Resident Tuition Rates
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed, 53–38

HB 1264 would have set tuition rates for non-resident students at a higher, fixed rate. For instance, the bill called for at least 115 percent of the resident tuition rate for nonresident students from the state of Minnesota. We believe with tight budgets across the University System, passing this bill would make it more difficult to enroll.

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House Bill 1265
Number of Non-Resident Students Admitted Under Reciprocity
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed, 65–26

HB 1265 would have set limits on the number of non-resident students admitted to the North Dakota University System by percentage through the year 2025–26, based on the number or resident students admitted. Again, we believe this bill would have limited out-of-state student enrollment in the North Dakota University System, and with tight budgets we believe that is a mistake.

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HB 1303
Prohibit State Agencies from Filling Vacated Employee Positions
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Passed, 84–8

HB 1303 initially put a hiring freeze on state employees through the end of April. The bill was amended to include some exceptions that include allowing the Governor to authorize filling a job deemed essential to protecting the life and safety of the citizens of this state. We are proud of the vital services provided by public employees. When positions are cut, the work doesn’t go away. We recognize the effort and dedication provided by these public servants on behalf of us all. These are vital public services that North Dakotans have come to expect, and services they deserve.

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House Bill 1318
Regional Education Associations
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Turned into study; passed, 58–31

HB 1318 would have repealed a portion of Century Code that would have abolished REAs. NDU testified in support of REAs, citing their quality professional development offerings and networking opportunities. The bill has been turned into a study, which we hope is killed in the Senate.

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House Bill 1382
Establishment of Education Savings Accounts/Vouchers
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Turned into a study. Passed, 72–17

HB 1382 would use public tax dollars for non-public education. NDU President Nick Archuleta testified vehemently against this cookie-cutter bill, crafted outside of North Dakota. Ultimately, the House Education Committee turned this bill into a study, which we hope is killed in the Senate.

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House Bill 1401
Collective Bargaining for Law Enforcement Officers and Full-Time (Paid) Firefighters
Position: Support
Outcome: Failed, 75–19

HB 1401 would have provided collective-bargaining rights for law-enforcement officers and full-time firefighters. The parties would negotiate in good faith regarding the terms and conditions of employment, employer-employee relations. Law enforcement and full-time firefighters would not have been able to strike under the agreement.

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House Bill 1432
Authority of the Supt. of Public Instruction & Education Standards
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Split into two sections on the floor. Failed, 62–27 & 78–10.

HB 1432 was introduced as an anti-Common Core bill that would limit the power of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, erase new standards written for North Dakota students by North Dakota educators and replace those with over-a-decade-old standards from Massachusetts. In an attempt to get part of the bill passed, the sponsor split it in two parts on the House floor. Both sections failed.

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Senate Bill 2030
Statutory Reference to North Dakota United
Position: Support
Outcome: Passed, 46–0

SB 2030 began as a clean-up bill last session to update language in Century Code from “North Dakota Education Association” to “North Dakota United.” President Nick Archuleta testified in support of this bill, which could have removed an NDU member from the Board of Directors of the Teacher Fund for Retirement (TFFR). We are happy to report, the language has been updated and we have maintained our membership on the TFFR board.

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Senate Bill 2135
Initiated & Referred Measure Study Commission
Position: Support
Outcome: Turned into study; passed, 38–8

SB 2135 creates an initiated and referred measure commission to study with the purpose of looking at the initiated and referred measure laws of North Dakota. We worked to get ourselves added to this committee, which will allow us to work to ensure that the people’s voice continues to be heard through the initiated and referred measure process and not be limited.

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Senate Bill 2180
Intent to Refuse Federal Education Funding Tied to Federal Mandates
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed 43–3

SB 2180 was a misguided attempt to refuse federal funding for local school districts. What the bill sponsor didn’t know was that school districts can already refuse federal funding, but still must follow federal mandates. We testified against this bill, citing the loss of revenue to school districts that would have to be made up by taxpayers.

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Senate Bill 2186
Innovative Pilot Program to Improve Student Educational Performance
Position: Support
Outcome: Passed, 44–0

SB 2186 has been one of the highlights of the session. President Archuleta testified in strong support of this bill, which would provide school districts with flexibility for teachers and learners and “unlock the creativity of teachers and learners alike.” We stand in strong support of continued innovation in education.

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Senate Bill 2243
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Position: Support
Outcome: Passed, 42–4

SB 2243 is a major step in recruiting new teachers into in geographical locations identified as having a teacher shortage or critical need or both. A new teacher could have up to $25,000 of students loans paid if they meet the criteria in the program.

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Senate Bill 2250
Early Childhood Education Programs
Position: Support
Outcome: Passed, 45–0

SB 2250 provides early childhood education to children throughout the state. NDU testified in support of this bill, with President Archuleta saying, “Research overwhelmingly indicates that young learners who experience early childhood education are far more likely to experience long-lasting success throughout their academic careers. That success leads to the likelihood that the student will graduate college, work or military-ready.” And while NDU continues to support universal Pre-K, and recognize there was another bill out there, we believe 2250 is the vehicle to move this vital service forward.

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Senate Bill 2336
Contributions to and Expenditures of Campaigns for Initiated or Referred Measures
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed, 38–5

SB 2236 relates to contributions to and expenditures of campaigns for initiated or referred measures. It would have limited the ability to spend NDU resources on initiated and referred measures in the future.

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HB 1310
Guns in Schools
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Passed, 73–19

HB 1310 was amended in committee and turned into a pilot program of up to 10 schools statewide. Amended, it is a much better bill than was initially introduced. It allows anyone 21 and over who has completed the South Dakota School Sentinel training program to carry a concealed weapon in schools. The training amounts to 80 hours in six subjects, and we think that’s not enough considering the circumstances. We also have questions about liability and insurance in regards to school districts.

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HB 1278
Guns in Government Buildings
Position: Oppose
Outcome: Failed, 78–16

HB 1278 failed because another bill, HB 1190, covers it. HB 1190 was a bill introduced to allow conceal/carry at public gatherings. It was amended to give the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Governor, Speaker of the House, or President Pro Tempore of the Senate authorization to approve an individual to carry a concealed weapon on property owned or leased by the state.

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Legislators resume their work on Wednesday, March 1. Significant budget decisions will be made during the second half that will impact all of us in some way, shape or form. With that in mind, Nick and I have invited Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Pam Sharp to join us Monday for our Facebook Live at 4:30 p.m. (CST). Director Sharp will tell us what she believes are two pressing concerns heading into the final half of the session, so be sure to go to our Facebook page at 4:30 on Monday to watch!

Until then, united, we can make a difference!