Uffda. As the days of April Legislation continues to play out, one word comes to mind…. Flustered. Don’t get me wrong – I love this process and, like a moth to a flame, am compelled to dive in full bore, face each challenge and fight the good fight. It all comes down to money. We have it here in North Dakota – and ostensibly we have bucket loads of it. But, what to spend it on – what is justifiable, what is not – becomes a real sticking point that we obviously have differing opinions on.
We hear references to infrastructure that has real meaning for most of us… roads, bridges, ditches and water (lack of or too much of) all jump to mind when most of hear this word. Make no mistake, we have real and significant needs all across the state with all these – and more. But, it could be argued that there are other forms of fundamental infrastructure that are just as real and important, although perhaps not as tangible – those needs related directly to people. Maybe it’s the very fluid nature of these needs that makes them such a moving and subjective target.
Early in the session it became apparent that we have some huge disconnects here in Bismarck that I tend to believe exacerbate the situation: 1. The “haves” and the “have-nots”; 2. The “urban” versus the “rural”; and 3. The “state” versus “local” governments. Might seem elementary or even a little simplistic, but it helps to frame some of what is taking place in this highly political arena. It’s hard not to take it to heart when you know first-hand how the politics will affect us all on a very real and personal level. When debating some of these issues and policies it’s quickly obvious that at times we’re not even comparing apples to oranges, but actually more like apples to zebras.
So, when we have a bill that comes up that would appropriate a meager $50,000 to the Veteran’s Administration to provide an additional three or four service dogs to veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), one would think this would be a proverbial “no-brainer”. Testimony and records have shown this existing program to be beneficial, have an increased need, and is funding based on partnering with other local and private funds. And, these are our veterans (slam-dunk, right?). Their service on behalf of our state for our country cannot be calculated in dollars. But, it turns out, this is far from a given and, while still alive after a valiant floor debate last Friday, may or may not survive the conference committee scheduled for it.
HB 1422 is still alive over in the Senate and is currently being duked out over the appropriations. The bill started out with a $15 million appropriation but left the House with $2.1 million and significantly reduced regulations for childcare standards. The purpose of the bill was to help stabilize the child care crisis in North Dakota that is steadily reaching catastrophic proportions. Representative Kathy Hawken (R-District 46, Fargo), bill sponsor, continues to strategize and press her majority counterparts to see the wisdom in investing to shore up this industry before it completely collapses. My stance with this is one of economic development, pure and simple. Without consistent, quality childcare, we cannot expect economic security. We’re seeing innovative and creative approaches to the child care dilemma right here in our own backyard with The Main Discovery in Hillsboro – a collaborative effort between many individuals and local entities to secure a quality facility with minimal risk. The project may prove to be a valuable model for others, but, regardless of the facility makeup, a funding program infused into the picture is critical to insuring meaningful and deliberate progression across the state.
And then there’s SB 2205 – a bill to provide funding to support and maintain North Dakota’s 2-1-1 help/lifeline services. Free and easy to use – the service is provided through FirstLink Helpline out of Cass County, and, while they have several local organizations that help to fund the service, state support is needed to adequately meet the growing needs. In 2012 they helped 39,623 callers – 1416 of which were suicide related. Other call topics included abuse, assault, disaster assistance, disabilities assistance, military/veteran support, substance abuse, health care, mental health… and much more. In a state as rural as North Dakota, any means of providing help is a worthwhile investment. In its original form, the bill would provide funding in the amount of $325,000, was then reduced to $233,000 in Senate Appropriations and now further reduced to $125,000 in House Appropriations. Without the full appropriation it is unclear whether this service will continue in its current state or not. What is clear is that on the same day the reduced amendment and bill cleared the House Floor, $80,000 was appropriated for the newly created Grape Growers Advisory Committee. Nothing against grape growers (we have at least two in our district), but one cannot help but wonder where the priorities are in this scenario.
So, a little flustered? Yep. But, as an eternal and dogged optimist, this just means we’re in for the long haul. In the meantime, you can rest assured that Rick, Phil and I are working diligently to bring common sense to the muck. And, it wouldn’t hurt to let your friends and family in other districts know this is the time to be contacting their legislators with their concerns and frustrations. They need to hear from those they affect.
Thinking warm thoughts and wishing you well til next week!
Rep. Gail Mooney
http://www.d20news.com or District 20 Team/Facebook