NDU Legislative Update, and Innovation in Education

By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

As legislators prepare to slide into Crossover (Should I capitalize “Crossover” or not? I’m crowd-sourcing the question on to all of you. Seems proper. — editor’s note) late next week, the weather has felt more like spring than mid-February. As North Dakotans, we know all too well that false sense of security. We’ve got a long way to go to reach spring. It’s the same sense I have of what’s happening at the Capitol; while there is some positive momentum for North Dakota United members, there is a long way until sine die, signaling the end of the 65th session.

Let’s start with some SB 2186, which is the education-innovation bill that will allow for exciting options in teaching and learning.

(A picture of Tom Gerhardt taking a picture of the press conference at the Capitol, promoting SB 2186. Meta. — editor’s caption)

NDU President Nick Archuleta joined Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, primary bill sponsor Sen. Nicole Poolman, bill carrier and NDU member Sen. Erin Oban, and others for a press conference that brought together the key players that have worked on this bill for several years. The bill still has to pass the House, but optimism is high for teachers and learners to continue to expand innovation in classrooms across the state.

A legislative social was held at the Heritage Center on Feb. 16. North Dakota United hosted, along with N.D. Department of Public Instruction, and a viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed followed.

More good news regarding NDU. The House Education Committee gave a 12–0 Do Pass recommendation to SB 2030, which updates language in Century Code from “North Dakota Education Association” to “North Dakota United.” It also continues our representative on the Teacher Fund for Retirement (TFFR) board. The bill has already cleared the Senate.

I’ve been keeping you up to date on a number of gun-related bills introduced in the House in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (We are not sure of the connection between guns and natural resources; do guns grow on trees? — editor’s note).

Let’s start with HB 1310, which deals with guns in schools. The bill was turned into a pilot program for the 2017–19 biennium.

After several meetings and multiple amendments, the full committee voted 10–2 Do Pass on a bill that adopts standards written in South Dakota. You can read a cleaner, more concise version here on the South Dakota Attorney General’s website. Up to 10 public or nonpublic schools can participate in the first armed responder pilot program. Schools can withdraw at any time. The program will be administered by the Department of Public Instruction. Only one school in South Dakota is participating in the program, even though it’s been in existence for over three years. The full House will vote on the proposed pilot program early next week.

Another gun bill we’ve paid close attention to is HB 1278, which relates to guns in government buildings. The bill was given a DNP recommendation in committee because another bill, HB 1190, takes care of it.

HB 1279 also passed out of the ENR Committee this morning following a “hog house” amendment offered by Chairman Todd Porter. The amendment reads, “an individual who resides in and stores a firearm or dangerous weapon in a residential dwelling located on property owned or leased by the State of North Dakota, or a political subdivision or the State of North Dakota.” The bill allows, for example, an administrator who has housing on state-owned property to have a gun in the residence.

HB 1190 gives an individual authorized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Governor, Speaker of the House, or President Pro Tempore of the Senate, to carry a concealed weapon on property owned or leased by the state. It passed on the House floor today by a vote of 81–5.

HB 1233,regarding guns in public places also passed the House today 86–0, and HB 1395, relating to dangerous weapons and retired law enforcement, passed the House by a vote of 82–4. All of these bills will get another look in the Senate.

We’ve also been keeping our eye on amendments offered to HB 1023. You can read about it in an article in the Bismarck Tribune. The Public Employees Benefits Committee voted 11–2 DNP this week. The full House has yet to vote on the bill.

A couple of other public employee bills passed on the House floor today. HB 1406 would require contracts for medical coverage to be done every two years and align with the Legislature. That passed by a vote of 73–13. HB 1407 has to do with group insurance contract for health benefits coverage. It passed the House 73–12.

HB 1168 would restrict compensation and travel reimbursement for public employees for attendance at legislative meetings received a DNP vote out of committee by a resounding 14–0. That’s good news. The full House has yet to vote on the bill on the floor.

Let’s turn our attention to higher education. There have been a couple of developments this week. Let’s start with overall budgets, which will be operating at 80 percent. That poses some significant challenges to our University System. You may have seen an article about Bismarck State College’s budget predicament in the Bismarck Tribune. NDU President Nick Archuleta was interviewed and summed it up well by saying, “They’re as lean, I think, as they can possible get. Pretty soon, you’re going to be cutting bone and when that happens … you do some irrefutable damage, and I really am hoping that people are cognizant of that as the budget solutions move forward.”

That leads us to an update on the potential, drastic policy change for tenured professors in higher education. It all centers around Policy 605.3 regarding termination of tenured faculty. Changes are being proposed to the policy that would reduce the amount of notice a tenured faculty member would receive from 12 months to 90 days. You guessed it, the change is under consideration because of the dire budget situation.

Today, a sub-committee met and talked about changing that to a minimum of six months’ notice. The sub-committee also discussed exempting University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University (NDSU), the state’s two research institutions, from the change. The sub-committee made it clear the two schools would be exempt due to their financial capabilities.

There would also be a sunset requirement, restoring the change back to 12 months’ notice on June 30, 2019.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott began today’s meeting saying, “these are extraordinary times,” and that “collapses” is a word former Governor Jack Dalrymple used to describe our budget situation. Hagerott said, “These are not things we expected to do.” The full SBHE committee meets Thursday, Feb. 23, at BSC for a second reading of Policy 605.3.

Next week will be fairly quiet at the Capitol. Legislators will work through Thursday morning and then take a few days off for Crossover. The full body reconvenes Wednesday, March 1. There will be several floor votes, including those on the gun bills that we will be watching.

Monday is Presidents Day, so enjoy your day off if you’ve got it. We’ll be at work at the session and back on Facebook Live at 4:30 p.m. CST, Monday afternoon. I hope you’ll join us!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my first two months on the job, it’s that your voices do make a difference. Please continue to contact your legislators. We’re a long way from the finish line, but united, we can make a difference!