Just the facts ma’am. It’s been relayed that there is a wish for more facts, less chat in my weekly report… given my penchant to share – here’s hoping we don’t end up with 6 point type in the newspapers!
House Human Services
Week 5 was a long, intense week for most committees. The deadline for any bill to move forward into appropriations for consideration is (was) Monday the 11th. All total, we have heard 54 bills in Human Services, 20 of which have fiscal notes to them, 7 still waiting for action on Monday. Doesn’t sound like huge numbers, but when you consider each of them is so very important in people’s lives, they require both time and careful deliberation. Some of those taken action on were:
HB 1040, related to emergency guardianship appointments for vulnerable adults in ND received a Do Pass from the committee, and on Friday was passed through the House unanimously. In general, this bill provides the processes and procedures to make sure people without an appropriate support system in place – a person legally dedicated as Power of Attorney or Durable Power of Health – are provided someone to look out for their best interests in the case of becoming incapable of speaking for themselves.
HB 1093 and 1180 were both related to the private practice of Social Services. Both received a Do Pass from the committee and the House, but not without considerable discussion and debate in committee. There are concerns that 1093, in particular, may have a direct impact to the overall quality of services since it actually reduces educational requirements. With both now headed to the Senate, there is still hope for amendments to address any potential issues.
HB 1175 received a Do Pass in committee after some amendments to move it into a budgetary item with the Department of Health, which should allow for it to become an ongoing program without becoming subject to biennium scrutiny by the legislation. This bill has to do with the STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction) which is an acute cardiovascular emergency medical system that had been appropriated for in previous legislation. The program was found to have had a profoundly positive impact – especially in rural areas – where having the access to the correct early diagnosis is critical to saving lives. A good bill and a good move for North Dakota citizens.
HB 1176 was another good bill that received much debate in committee and will undoubtedly on the House floor Monday morning. Current law in North Dakota prevents any person that has been convicted of a felony drug charge from receiving supplemental nutrition programs (previously food stamps). This lifetime ban differs from other felonies (which could include alcohol convictions, murder, rape, arson, theft, etc.) which only have a 5 year ban and the bill looked to bring all felonies in line with one another. After extensive debate, the bill passed committee with an amendment of a 7 year ban as a good first step at moving the ban away from being selectively punitive and allow for rehabilitation.
HB 1360 passed through committee and has been referred to appropriations. The purpose of the bill is to extend a program called PACE – Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. PACE works to keep the elderly in their homes and is currently available in Bismarck and Dickinson. If appropriated, the program would look to expand into Minot, Fargo, Garrison, Bowman, Hazen and Lamoure and would be a tremendous complement to other available health care options for our aging population (yours truly being one of them!). On a serious note, I know that I certainly wish a program like this had been available for my own mother when she needed it. Pride and dignity in aging is priceless.
HB 1305 and 1456 were two very important and highly controversial bills that passed through both committee and the House in week 5. The first deals with restricting abortions with relation to gender selection and genetic abnormalities; the second was coined “The Heartbeat Bill” and restricts abortions to around a 6 week gestation period when a heartbeat can first be detected in a fetus. Both directly challenge the 1973 rulings of the Supreme Court to protect a woman’s right to privacy in relation to her decision to an abortion, and will undoubtedly find North Dakota in various forms of litigation for years if passed into law.
Government & Veterans Affairs
GVA is my “B” committee and is provided just two days – Thursday and Fridays for committee work. Unlike most years, GVA has found itself with a work load similar to that of a 3-day committee and to date has heard a total of 47 bills, 16 of which required action by Thursday evening to meet the Monday fiscal note deadline. To say that Thursday was long, would be an understatement as we heard no less than 9 bills, took action on about a half dozen and then wrapped up the remaining before noon on Friday. No less than 7 of the bills heard were related to voting and making Presidential orders optional. Intense. Highlights of the two days included:
HB 1257 & 1259 were both related to fireworks. 1257 would rescind a ban on bottle rocket sales in North Dakota. There was extensive testimony provided that made it clear that the ban has been working to keep young children safer with fireworks. One doctor reported that since the ban several years ago, his office has had no emergency visits related to fireworks whereas before it was both regular and common to have multiple eye injuries to care for. It received a Do Not Pass. 1259 would make fireworks available from December 26 through January 1 to make New Years fireworks available and received a Do Pass.
HB 1275, 1332, 1286, 1400, 1361 and 1418 were all related to voting. HB 1286 was specific to making a change in how a Building Authority can levy mills and would require them to fall in line with all other public works building procedures, requiring a vote of 60% of the voting population and approval by the Superintendent of Instruction. In all the others, there is a flurry of controversy surround each since each seeks to change how we vote in North Dakota in a number of ways. 1400 would reduce the number of days allowed for early voting in the urban areas, removing local authority over the decision. The others all relate to current law that allows people to vote when they arrive at a poll precinct without identification. Currently, North Dakota allows a person to vote if a Poll Checker can verify the identity of the individual. The voter completes an affidavit that is then verified at the State’s Attorney office and Secretary of State. The concerns raised are that an individual could vote and not be who they say they are or could possibly vote in multiple places. Both actions are against the law and would have penalties attached, but the concern is that there is no retrieving the ineligible votes. The Secretary of State testified against all the scenarios presented, stating that out of the 10,519 affidavits received in last year’s election, only one is being questioned. There is great controversy from all of this as talk of Voter ID, Voter Registration and other thoughts are thrown into the mix. More next week on all of these as actions are taken.
HB 1428 would have been my favorite GVA bill of the week, except that I think the next one might actually beat it! 1428 would allow the state of North Dakota to review and be allowed to reject any Presidential order that is not accompanied by an affirmation of Congress. Bonus – it would be retroactive to two years prior to the date of becoming law. Constitutionality and a myriad other questions accompany this bill – not the least of which is, are we prepared for the financial sanctions to accompany such an enactment.
HB 1379 is the bill topper of the week – receiving a Do Pass. This bill would appropriate $6 million dollars for the purpose of building a new Governor Mansion/Conference Facility. $3 million of the funds would come from the the Capitol Improvements Fund, the other $3 million would come from private donations. Proponents believe there would be no public backlash from such an extravagance and feel it is a necessary move. Opponents included the Governor himself through written testimony who stated emphatically that the current building is simply in need of improvements and maintenance that could be satisfied over a biennium or two. As to the conference center, he questioned the necessity of this since the Heritage Center, slated for completion this spring, will have over 105,000 square feet and provide ample conferencing abilities for any executive or legislative function. Since the majority voted in favor, we’ll find out this coming week what the House feels.
That’s a wrap for Week 5. You can find more right on the state website at http://www.legis.nd.gov. Two great features bring the process home to you… Video streamed live or archived by day and person – and then Bill Tracking where you can follow a bill through both houses, see how people vote and what they say. Powerful way to be a part of the process.
Till next week – or follow along online!
Rep. Gail Mooney
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