Legislative Report • Week 15 • Rep. Gail Mooney
This week in the legislation, the Natural Resources Committee voted a Do Not Pass on Spring. Deemed too costly, with far too many potential unintended consequences such as flooding and high road maintenance expenses, it was deferred to an interim study to learn of the overall impacts to the state with a report for the 2015 Legislative session. OK, maybe I exaggerate – but seriously – did Spring not get the memo?
In the meantime, we continue to forge on with issues we can actually affect – or try to! Some of the biggies for this past week included raising the match funding for our senior citizens services, a continued fight for the childcare industry, the fight to reinstate over $300 million back in to a bill to help shore up the crumbling infrastructure needs of the oil impact country, a continued battle over Higher Ed funding that includes much needed building projects, and – of course – one last abortion bill (because apparently one can never have too many of these to move into the court systems).
This tug-of-war between the genuine needs – and the perceived needs – is certainly one that is tearing at us right now. Unexpected shenanigans play out daily with the remaining bills, as amendments are made in the midnight hours to change their course – generally involving the elimination or reduction of funding. It leaves some of us with a heightened sense of defense and in full damage control mode. With so many of them, keeping up requires a collaborative effort and we rely on a large network of groups and people like our own Larry Syverson, President of the ND Townships Association to help stay abreast as the days play out. It’s intense, but the collaborative effort is well worth it in the fight to not loose ground.
One of the areas of great concern, especially for our rural areas, is with regards to Human Services. Out of 53 counties, we have only five with significant population to them, leaving us with 48 that are rural by nature. Now, consider that with the last redistricting a major shift of representation moved to the four most densely populated areas – Grand Forks, Cass, Burleigh and Ward county areas. What we are seeing play out is legislation based on the overall experiences and knowledge of four areas – which are just simply not the same as in the rural areas.
By default we operate and levy differently because of our smaller populations. In matters related to Human Services, I often hear that “we need to let the private sector” handle more of these needs; that by increasing or enhancing state funded programs, we are disabling private enterprise. While I can agree with them when related to the urban areas, our rural areas simply do not have the population base to make private sector programs cash flow. Day cares are a prime example of this conundrum.
Enter stage right HB 1233…. the “Social Services bill”. This bill was crafted and sponsored by two long time legislators – Representative Weisz and Senator Judy Lee. Each has served on their respective Human Service committees for many years and is very knowledgeable. HB 1233 started out as a $20 million appropriation bill to partially fund local Social Services via their Foster Care and Sub-Adoption programs, and was introduced in committee in mid-January. A month later the Human Services committee was called to take action on the bill, but prior to beginning discussions, Chairman and bill sponsor Weisz introduced an amendment to fully fund ALL of our Social Services – to the tune of $100 million including salaries – with two main points of reason: 1) That there’s long been a contention that it’s unfair to the local authorities and tax payers to be required to fund a state mandated program; and that 2) this is real and meaningful property tax relief.
Both statements are absolutely true and would have a positive financial impact to Traill County alone with a savings of about 14% of the general operating budget – property tax relief to be sure. Ultimately, this bill was brought back to its original form via House Appropriations, passed the House and now sits in the Senate where it continues to bob back and forth between its original $20 million and the latter $100 million formulas – and probably will until the very end.
We continue to watch this bill like a hawk – and like a dog with a bone, Traill County Social Services Director, Kim Jacobson has made it her mission to stay on top of this as it continues to ping-pong its way through the Senate. The concerns are straight forward and have been repeatedly made known to all involved – as a local, rural area, we are all for property tax relief, but never at the expense of the services to those who live here. Services provided affect some of the most vulnerable of our population and locally provided services are the most effective in terms of both costs and human need. With a fully funded Human Service program, the anticipation of strings, centralization and cutbacks are real and justified, as seen through other programs – like the previously mentioned Senior Citizens services program which is loosing a battle to regain its fully matched status.
The goal in this end run is that if the fully funded appropriation makes it through the Senate and then again the House, that there is an interim study in place that has all the right people (which in my opinion must include local representation, both urban and rural) at the table to insure there is no loss of services. While the urban areas may have a private sector to look to offset these services, we do not – and we do not want to loose our residents to the urban areas because of lack of service ability. We work too hard to build upon and retain what we have. Loosing ground is not an option!
‘Til next week… let’s all think warm thoughts and wear bright colors!! Maybe we can force a turn over vote on Spring!
Rep. Gail Mooney
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