By Tom Gerhardt, Director of Public Affairs

Gun bills have been a big piece of the conversation of the 65th Legislative Assembly, and six of the seven bills remaining were heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The one still left on the table is the bill North Dakota United has been following most closely all session.

HB 1310 is the guns in schools bill, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Kelly Armstrong told committee members they’d continue work on the bill Monday morning.

There are multiple concerns with the bill and including insurance and liability. Armstrong called in a spokesperson from the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund (NDIRF) to find out if schools would be provided coverage under the proposed pilot program.

Brennan Quintas of NDIRF testifies to Senate Judiciary Committee.

To refresh your memory, HB 1310 would allow up to 10 schools to have a first armed responder in the school. The armed responder would carry a concealed weapon — thus the concerns about insurance and liability.

The NDIRF representative told committee members there isn’t much data out there on active shooters in schools, saying there are not a lot of school shootings to base coverage decisions off of. He did ultimately say NDIRF would be able to provide coverage, but a number of variables would impact costs.

There is still time to reach out to your senator and ask them to please vote no to guns in schools. We heard in committee this week that your e-mails are being received and are making a difference.

Another significant gun bill passed the Senate floor Tuesday. HB 1169 is the permit-less carry bill that allows just about anyone to carry concealed in North Dakota. If you read the bill you will find the exceptions. The bill passed on the Senate floor by a 34–13 margin. Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill into law yesterday. Some believe the current open book test needed to receive a Class 2 permit works, and that there is no need to change the current law.

Finally, HB 1273 is the gun bill involving public gatherings. It was amended and passed the Senate floor, 40–7. There are exceptions to public gatherings, including sporting events, and you can read about them in Section 1 of the bill.

I finally have an update to SB 2186 — the education innovation bill. It had been held up in the House Education Committee for over a week due to some concern about language allowing the Superintendent of Public Instruction to allow waivers for schools. The concern was the waiver language was too broad and could allow for waivers outside of education innovation.

House Education Committee debates SB 2186 amendments.

House Ed finally hammered out an amendment late Wednesday afternoon to provide the clarification, and the committee gave it a 15–1 Do Pass recommendation. Committee Chair Mark Owens said he hopes the clarifications will help the bill pass the House floor when it goes to vote. SB 2186 passed unanimously out of the Senate earlier this session.

SB 2186 has unanimous support from education associations, DPI and three school districts waiting to submit plans for approval.

HB 1436 is the PERS releated delayed bill offered by Rep. Carlson that I talked about last week. It now has an amendment that looks at the role of the employee benefits committee.

Interestingly, public input will be taken for the bill Monday morning.

Also of interest is the school-funding formula bill, HB 1324. The House version of the bill kept the per-pupil allocation at the same level as 2016–17 — $9,646. The House slightly reduced the local contribution so that there would have been more coming from the state for some districts, but the Senate version removed that reduction and left the local contribution levels the same as this year. The Senate Education Committee amended the bill to include Regional Education Association (REA) oversight and some incentive for merging REAs, along with a study of all entities that provide services to K-12 schools in the areas of professional development and other support services (primarily REAs).

The Senate Ed version was given a “Do Pass” recommendation and is forwarded to Senate Appropriations where it will be considered next week.

Bills in Brief

HB 1023 — The PERS budget bill was in appropriations this week. Last week, the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee removed an 85-page amendment offered by Rep. Carlson and turned it into a legislative study during the interim. The amendment would have dramatically changed the governance of PERS.

HB 1029 — This is the bill that relates to acceptance of federal funds. President Nick Archuleta’s testimony earlier this session helped get higher education removed from the process. The bill has been turned into a study and passed on the Senate floor, 45–2, this week.

HB 1303 — And this is the bill to put a hiring freeze on state employees, was killed on the Senate floor this week, 47–0. It was an easy red button for Senators after the bill sponsor, Rep. Al Carlson, told committee members last week the bill had served its purpose and asked that they kill it.

SB 2135 — Finally, this bill would create an initiated and referred measure study commission. North Dakota United was one of the groups included in the commission, and the bill was approved by the Senate, 38–8. The bill was referred to the House Government and Veteran Affairs (GVA) Committee after Crossover, and they chose to remove NDU. They made other changes, including adding more legislators. Probably going to see this one in conference committee.

Much of the work on university budgets remains to be hammered out. This week, we heard in committee that changes are being considered to challenge grant funding. Schools would have to apply for the challenge grant money in this current world of rapidly shrinking higher ed budgets. Here is a link to the latest meeting notes to help give you a sense of some of the grant process.

Lawmakers were hoping to finish up by Good Friday, in order to meet their goal of a 70-day session. This is looking less and less likely. In short, they have about three weeks to tackle a myriad of issues, including balancing the state budget. Translation, it’s getting into crunch time.

(That’d be great. — editor’s meme)

Next week a lot of work will continue to be done in appropriations, and conference committees will meet to attempt to hash out final details of bills that both chambers may have some lingering concerns about.

Monday, I’ll join NDU President Archuleta for our regularly scheduled Facebook Live presentation at 4:30 p.m. CST. You can see which of us is wearing the nicer tie. (This is our version of March Madness. — editor’s note)

And don’t forget to follow us on social media, @NDUnited on Twitter and, for daily updates. You can also e-mail me with questions, comments or concerns.

United, we can make a difference!