By Tom Gerhardt, Director of Public Affairs

Easter Weekend is here, and with under 14 days to go before the 80-day limit, the legislative session feels somewhat like an Easter egg hunt. Lawmakers are still trying to find money for various budgets, and NDU lobbyists are scurrying around the Capitol, keeping up with dozens of conference committees as members of the House and Senate try to work out differences on bills left this session.

And sometimes they stand around outside. Like on Wednesday, when the fire alarm went off and the Capitol was evacuated. Reportedly, the alarm was set off by a defective crockpot.

Some conference committees meet a number of times before reaching agreement or impasse, so it can be “two steps forward and one step back” in each committee meeting (or two steps back and one step forward).

SB 2186

While medical marijuana passed and parking meters fell to defeat, the big story this week is Governor Burgum’s signing of SB 2186. NDU Communications Director (and editor of e-mail blasts — editor’s note) Kelly Hagen took a lot of photos of the bill signing that you can view here.

NDU President Nick Archuleta and Student-NDU President Landen Schmeichel were among those in attendance.

SNDU President Landen Schmeichel (left) and NDU President Nick Archuleta stand directly behind Gov. Doug Burgum at the signing ceremony for SB 2186 in the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol.

“This bill takes a crucial step in the right direction, empowering local school districts to better shape educational delivery to meet the needs of the 21st century,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “We are excited to put control of education back where it belongs — in the hands of teachers, students and parents.”

We couldn’t agree more.

NDU member and Senator, Erin Oban, was quoted in a press release from the Governor’s office. “We already have great education here for North Dakota kids, but we can do better,” Oban said, adding that by the Governor signing the bill into law, “I think we are going to take a big, important step forward in education.”

And speaking of innovation in the classroom, earlier in the day Governor Burgum and Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Superintendent Kirsten Baesler visited Simle Middle School in Bismarck and presented an innovation award to teacher Ryan Townsend and his class. You can read about how they designed a solar-powered charging station for homeless people to charge their phones.

SB 2135

There is some good news to pass along on this bill after a handful of conference committee meetings that stalled with no agreements.

On Thursday morning, the House conference committee members offered amendments that passed by a 4–1 vote, working in our favor.

2135 is the bill that would create a commission to study the initiated and referred measure process. When the bill was introduced, NDU had a seat on the commission. However, as I mentioned in last week’s update, we have been removed. Although the Senate side of the conference committee has made repeated attempts to get NDU back on the commission.

The two sides finally agreed to having seven citizen members appointed by the Governor, with one of those seven representing workers’ interests. Sounds like North Dakota United fits the bill, doesn’t it? There will also be six legislators on the committee, including three from the House and three from the Senate.

Sen. David Hogue said it’s a reasonable compromise, although he would have liked to see a labor (NDU) and a Tribal representative included. Hogue said he is confident the Governor will appoint both with his discretion.

KFYR-TV reporter Max Grossfeld interviewed NDU President Archuleta about the issue earlier this week before an agreement was reached.

NDU President Nick Archuleta interviewed by KFYR-TV’s Max Grossfeld.

SB 2139

This is the bill that would, in certain cases, allow guns in schools, public buildings, athletic events and churches.

SB 2139 passed out of conference committee late Thursday with a 5–1 do pass recommendation, but not before some amendments were offered.

The amendments changed the language of who could carry a concealed weapon from “any elected official” to “statewide elected officials or members of the legislative assembly.”

The official would need to demonstrate a need to carry (which needs to be done yearly to law enforcement) and maintain the same level of firearms proficiency as a peace officer.

This bill would allow those elected officials to carry concealed in schools, athletic events, government buildings (including the Capitol) and churches.

Rest assured, we will work to defeat this bill. You can do your part by sending a message to your senator, and asking them to reject these changes.

SB 2003

The House Appropriations Committee passed the University System budget Thursday morning by a vote of 19–1. It included amendments that would have prohibited NDSU from spending funds for a Nursing School in Bismarck, added a section that would put savings from a renegotiated lease agreement between NDSU’s Nursing School and Sanford back into the general fund, and adds a section to provide for a State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) study regarding reorganizing nursing programs at institutions across the state.

On Wednesday, Sanford reached a new lease agreement with NDSU in Bismarck.

During committee work, Rep. Mark Sanford said that nine of our 11 colleges and universities have nursing programs with more than 1,700 students statewide.

The issue likely faces more tweaking. House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer said following the vote, “I’m sure we’ll get the chance to vote on that a couple times more.” It now heads to conference committee.

SB 2243

This bill is also in conference committee, where members are taking a hard look at merging it into SB 2037, which is a teacher loan forgiveness bill for STEM.

2037 has already passed both chambers and is awaiting the governor’s signature, so it’s unclear how the idea will be executed if passed out of committee. It would allow for $1000 loan forgiveness each year with a maximum of $5,000 per person.

2243 was turned into a study, but it is intended to help combat the teacher shortage issue in North Dakota, both in tough to fill positions in tough to fill regions. Before it was turned into a study, a new teacher could have had loans of up to $25,000 forgiven if they had met both criteria and stayed in a district for three years.

We’ll keep our eye on this and update you on it next week.

HB 1436

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee finally moved on its last bill early this week — and it’s a big one. HB 1436 was introduced as a delayed bill by Rep. Al Carlson and would move PERS to a self-insured program from a self-funded program. The GVA chair, Sen. Nicole Poolman, told her committee that she was reluctant to support the bill at this time, primarily due to a signed contract with Sanford and contractual issue, and because she was uncomfortable with using the Bank of North Dakota for a $50 million line of credit.

Senator Poolman did agree that the Legislature should have more oversight on PERS health insurance and reminded committee members a study of the bill was added in HB 1023.

On Thursday afternoon, 1436 was killed on the Senate floor by a 47–0 vote.

HB 1013

The Department of Public Instruction budget is also in conference committee. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg says he doesn’t think the two sides are far off on an agreement. You may remember, the Senate’s DPI budget came in $7,514 lower than the House side (important stat for all of you and your N.D. Legislature fantasy squads — editor’s note).

HB 1023

The PERS budget bill passed the Senate this week, 46–0.

It’s in conference committee, and I’ll pass along details as they identify and work out their differences.

Please enjoy your Easter weekend and make sure to join Nick and me Monday afternoon at 4:30 CST for our weekly Facebook Live update.

United, we can make a difference!