By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

It’s Gun Week, Take Two, at the North Dakota Legislature.

On Tuesday, seven (SEVEN — editor’s emphasis) gun-related bills made their way through the Senate Judiciary Committee, including HB 1310, which deals with guns in schools.

The bill would allow anyone with 80 hours of training to become a first armed responder in up to ten pilot schools across the state. There is more criteria, but essentially the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee ended up copying South Dakota’s School Sentinel bill. Only one South Dakota school has signed up for the program in four years.

Testimony against HB 1310 Tuesday came from a wide variety of people and groups. North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta testified, citing a number of concerns, including the fact that the bill allows non-law enforcement personnel to carry concealed in schools, the issue of liability and insurance, and the fact that no schools provided testimony in favor of the bill on either the House or Senate side. In fact, the Superintendent of Edmore provided testimony against 1310 in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

NDU Attorney Mike Geiermann offered a different perspective in his testimony. Geiermann also represents The Fraternal Order of Police, and he has been involved legally in 30 officer-involved shooting cases. His testimony is worth a listen.

Our association’s stance continues to be that we oppose guns in schools, expect those under the control of highly trained School Resource Officers (SROs) or retired law enforcement. We also believe it’s important to look at preventative measures like reconfiguring schools to make them safer, committing to hire more school counselors and social workers trained to spot potential issues, and investing more in mental health services.

Please get involved and tell your Senator to VOTE NO to guns in schools.

Looking at a few of the other gun bills: HB 1169, known as the Constitutional Carry bill; HB 1190, which would give the Governor and others authority to authorize a person to carry concealed on property-owned or leased by the state; and HB 1279, which would allow an individual to store a gun in a government owned or leased building if authorized. All were heard Tuesday.

The committee took no action and will work on the gun bills next week.

Things are starting to move along with just over 20 days to go to the self-imposed 70-day deadline for the session.

There’s a significant update to HB 1023, the PERS budget bill that picked up an 85-page policy amendment before Crossover, attempting to change the governance of the PERS Board.

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously passed an amendment dropping the 85-page amendment that was offered by Rep. Al Carlson, and turning it into a study. The committee then re-referred the budget bill to Appropriations.

The interim study would also incorporate other PERS bills to look at the powers and duties of the PERS retirement board, the administrative structure of PERS, the feasibility and desirability of changing the contract bidding to every two years, and do the same with a proposed self-funded insurance plan. The self-insurance bill (HB 1436) is part of a delayed bill offered by Representative Carlson late last week. Take a look at amendments four and five to see what’s new.

President Archuleta also testified on SB 2243, dealing with teacher loan forgiveness in front of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The original $6 million appropriation has been amended to $2 million. We all know budgets are tight, but we continue to support this bill because it incentivizes new teachers to move to critical-need areas in terms of subjects and geography. The committee did not take action on the bill.

It’s also a good time to give you an update on SB 2186, which is our education innovation bill. 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. It was scheduled for a vote on the House floor last Friday, but was sent back to the House Education Committee, where it remains.

HB 1361 is another Representative Carlson bill that attempts to cap property tax assessment at 3 percent each year unless it goes to a vote.

Political subdivision groups lined up in the Brynhild Haugland Room to testify against the bill, including multiple public school superintendents, President Archuleta and other education associations. Those testifying said a 3 percent cap would have actual impacts on schools, forcing them in tight times to raise local property taxes to make up revenue. Examples given by one superintendent included the need for more funds if there is a teacher shortage, an increase on special assessments, or unexpected bus or mechanical replacements.

BILLS IN BRIEF

SB 2272 — This is another big idea/streamlining bill that protects foundation aid to schools in case of shortfalls. The bill takes three different school construction loan funds and puts them in one place.

HB 1303 — This is the public employee hiring freeze bill. Representative Carlson attended the hearing Friday and asked that it be killed. Carlson told Senate GVA members 1303 was no longer needed but had served its purpose. The bill put a freeze on hiring until the end of April, unless authorized by the governor.

HB 1324 — This is a bill dealing with the determination of state aid payable to school districts. No action was taken on this bill, but we felt the tone of the meeting was less than positive.

Looking ahead to next week, it’s almost all about appropriations and committee work. As mentioned earlier, Monday will be day 50 of the session — leaving 20 days for all major budget bill to be determined. Lawmakers hope to leave 10 days early in case they need to come back into session to deal with the aftermath of the repeal/replace movement toward the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, we will learn more about HB 1436 — the delayed bill offered by Representative Carlson to change our state health coverage to self-insured.

We are told the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely work on the gun bills Tuesday, so we will keep a close eye on developments there, especially with HB 1310 (guns in schools).

It’s likely university budgets won’t be dealt with for a week or two, so we’ll let you know when we know more about Higher Ed decisions.

We saw a lot of green at the Capitol today, but it wasn’t money. (Tom’s joke. I’m leaving it in. — editor’s note) So we know the difficult decisions remain ahead. Please continue to contact your legislators with your concerns and allow your voices to be heard.

(It just wouldn’t be Legislative Update without a meme attached. — editor’s note)

United, we can make a difference!