Report from the Sixty-Third Session of the North Dakota Legislature.
Representative Rick Holman, Monday, April 9, 2013
NEXT FORUM AT THE EMERADO CITY HALL ON SATURDAY, APRIL 13TH AT 9:00 A.M.
Today is Daffodil Day at the Legislature, the day when legislators and staff wear yellow as a sign of spring. With the snow and ice, and the cold this morning, spring seems far away. Things ARE warming up in the Legislature, however. With only about three weeks to finish up our work, differences of opinion are taking on a degree of urgency making floor speeches and committee meetings more important. The big issues of tax relief, education, health care and infrastructure are obviously important but every legislator also has personal and local issues to follow. One has to compare “What do I want?” with “What can I get?” and work to find that reasonable compromise. I’m reminded of words I heard often from my teachers; “Pay Attention!” With a large number of conference committees making final adjustments to legislation, things can change quickly.
House Bill 1332 has passed both the House and Senate and imposes a stricter voter ID requirement on North Dakota voters. This bill is part of a national, partisan effort on the voter ID issue from sources outside of our state and another example of how some legislators want to spend taxpayer funds on a problem that does not exist. Voter fraud is virtually unheard of in North Dakota. The end result will make voting more difficult for senior citizens, college students, and people who have recently moved. When the next election rolls around, some who have not jumped through the hoops, will ask, “How did this happen?” The only recourse now is for the Governor to veto the bill and get rid of the problems it will cause.
The House Education Appropriations Committee has been spending a lot of time on the funding for Higher Education. Several amendments have been proposed that make changes that are not in the best interest of maintaining the strong system we have. For example, one amendment would have legislative review of building projects, a task that is already done by the State Board, ultimately causing unnecessary delay of needed projects such as the classroom to replace the old gym at MSU. Another amendment will raise tuition by 8 percent over the next two years, passing the increased cost of school on to our students in this time of record state income. Any increases in funding each school will come from what are called discretionary “equity funds” which may not be able to maintain current student support and academic programs. As this moves into conference, I hope common sense will prevail.
After a couple of years of discussion the Legislature has passed the Medicaid Expansion. HB 1362 will allow over 20,000 people who currently can’t afford healthcare coverage but don’t qualify for Medicaid access to healthcare. This action gives the state 100% federal funding for the first three years and no less than 90% federal funding thereafter. Those who are working but don’t make enough to afford health insurance are now able to receive the health care coverage they need with minimal cost to the state.
In Appropriations, we are finishing up final House amendments to Agency funding bills. Our sub-committee finished reviewing some larger budgets from the Health Department, Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Home, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Considering all the many budgets, a main area of concern is that the House lowered all the state employee pay recommendations from what is recommended by the Governor and the Senate. Since this impacts every budget and everyone who works for the state as well as some of the supporting agencies, this issue may take some time to resolve.
You can get more information about the legislative process by going to the North Dakota Legislative Web page: http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/63-2013/regular.