Week Nine, and the budget is not too fine, at the N.D. Legislature

By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

This week, as legislators wrestled with mud flaps, muzzleloaders and parking meters (Sounds like a good time to me. — editor’s note) the House also considered a bill that will have significant, positive impacts on education throughout North Dakota

I’ll get to all of that in a moment. The big news of the week had to do with the release of the latest revenue forecast, which revealed somber, though not unexpected news. I’ll recap because the forecast will affect budget decisions legislators make in the second half of the session, which will in turn have ramifications for all of us.

The first number released shows we will have around $46 million less at the end of the current biennium June 30 than what had been predicted in January.

The revised forecast for the 2017–19 biennium shows we have over $103 million less than legislative assumptions. The money will need to be made up somewhere, whether through transferring money from funds or more cuts.

Gov. Doug Burgum addressed legislators before the meeting, suggesting his plan once again to have state employees pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums, which would save the state around $11 million.

Packed room at the Capitol listens to new budget forecast.

North Dakota United will continue to fight to make sure the budget isn’t balanced on the backs of state employees.

“We fully expect that North Dakota legislators will recognize what the voters of our state have known for a long time: Public employees have provided the citizens of North Dakota with vital public services without fail, despite the loss of hundreds of colleagues through budget cuts in recent years. North Dakota’s dedicated public employees work tirelessly every day to overcome the challenges associated with a growing workload and fewer resources to call upon to get the job done. Now, given the most recent disappointing budget forecast, our Legislature faces a challenge of its own: how to serve the people of North Dakota without doing irreparable damage to the social fabric of our great state. It is time for reasonable solutions that ask for shared sacrifice and do not result in balancing the budget on the backs of North Dakota’s outstanding public employees,” NDU President Nick Archuleta said.

Legislators have told us they like to hear from you. Let them know you don’t support the governor’s proposal.

SB 2186 is the education innovation bill that has received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate chambers.

On Wednesday, the bill was introduced by Sen. Nicole Poolman in front of the House Education Committee. A long line of proponents testified in support of the bill, including North Dakota United, superintendents, the Department of Public Instruction, multiple education associations and even a student from Langdon High School.

The bill passed of out of the House Education Committee unanimously the same day and was scheduled for vote today by the House. However, it’s been sent back to committee, where it will be looked at again Monday. The bill passed through the Senate in February, 44–0.

SB 2186 opens the door for local school districts to provide flexibility from the traditional classroom experience, allowing teachers and students more freedom to use innovation in the classroom.

Northern Cass Superintendent Cory Steiner provided one example during his testimony. Steiner said starting in the 8th and 9th grades, students at his school will begin taking core courses with the goal of finishing them by the end of their sophomore year. He said that will open the door for students to engage in passion areas during their junior and senior years.

Indeed, it is, Ron.

NDU supports continued innovation and believes this bill will only build upon the job our teachers are already doing in the classroom.

Good news from the Senate floor. HB 1382 is Rep. Rick Becker’s voucher bill disguised as education savings accounts. The House Education Committee turned the HB 1382 into a study on school choice, and that study was defeated on the Senate floor today, 14–32.

Bills In Brief

HB 1337 — This is the required reading of historical documents bill. It was given a 6–0 Do Not Pass recommendation from the Senate Education Committee, then was killed on the Senate floor Thursday, 1–46. The bill centered around the reading of the Federalist Papers.

HB 1246 — elating to state employee claims of employment discrimination was before the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday. No action was taken on the bill, which would allow employees 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. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this bill.

I can also tell you there have been no changes on the PERS bill, HB 1023 since last week.

However, Rep. Al Carlson has introduced a delayed bill that calls for self-funded health insurance.

We think this is an awfully big idea to be brought up this late in the session. We will be at the hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Next week — days 45–49 of the session — is a busy one, which includes all the gun bills introduced in the Senate.

Monday, NDU President Nick Archuleta will testify on SB 2243, which is the teacher loan forgiveness bill. We think it’s a great idea that could help with our teacher shortage and route new teachers into content and geographical areas deemed as critical need.

Tuesday is “Gun Day” (Not an official holiday … yet. — editor’s note). President Archuleta will testify on HB 1190, which authorizes the governor and others to authorize an individual to carry a concealed weapon in a government building, and HB 1310, which is the guns in schools bill.

NDU’s stance is not against guns. However, our members are adamant in their opposition to allowing guns in schools; except those under the control of well-trained School Resource Officers (SROs).

As Archuleta said in earlier testimony, “We oppose HB 1310 because we believe that local school districts already have and will continue to have the ability to contract with local law enforcement agencies to provide professional law enforcement personnel to serve as SROs in their schools, an idea supported by our members and the public.”

Nick will also testify Wednesday on HB 1361 relating to school district state aid payments.

That’s just a sampling of what’s happening.

University System budgets were heard this week, SB 2003, and we sat in on all of them. Following the release of the revenue forecast, it will take some time to sort them out. Rep. Dave Monson said in the committee hearing with Valley City State that it would be a few weeks.

The University of North Dakota did take early action, slashing its budget by another 12 percent.

Times are tough, but it’s more important now than ever to unify our voices. Here’s how you can become an NDU Activist.

Getting back to PERS, please join Nick and me on Facebook Live this Monday at 4:30 p.m. PERS Executive Director Sparb Collins will be with us to talk about HB 1023 and what it could mean for public employees. We’ll answer any questions you may have as well.

Until then, don’t forget to move your clock forward an hour this weekend! (You’re going to lose an hour of sleep. I’m sorry you had to find out about it like this. — editor’s note)

United, we can make a difference!