The good, the bad, and the ugly. This seems to sum up many days’ activities in the Capitol right now. We’ll do a little good, counter that with some bad, and then round it off with a little ugly. Case in point was yesterday. We started and ended with the ugly – with two bills relating to rail safety in the state.
SB 2008 originally provided funding for the Public Service Commission to establish a rail safety program that included two rail inspectors at a cost of roughly $950,000 for the next biennium. Given the nature of our current rail volume and the contents of the shipments, this would make great sense. And for our district, when you consider we have almost every community directly impacted by rail activity, this is could be critical to public safety at some point in the future. The governor, Public Service Commission, numerous stakeholders and community leaders, and three public hearing processes all found value in this premise as it passed through the vetting layers of the Legislature. Our esteemed colleagues in appropriations, however, felt differently and promptly removed this portion of SB 2008. There were valiant efforts on the floor to have this funding reinstated, but that movement ultimately failed. The bill remains alive, though, and will no doubt head to conference committee, where it is hoped the Senate can prevail in this endeavor for public safety.
SB 2016 is the adjutant general’s budget that had $3 million included in it to equip and train firefighters in the state, with the emphasis on volatile and explosive situations – such as the Casselton train derailment and explosion experienced in late 2014. To the chagrin of many, this too, was removed from the bill by appropriations. As in SB 2008, it is hoped the Senate will prevail over the derailment of our last best effort to provide proactive measure to future disasters in the state.
Under the category of “just plain bad,” we had SB 2284 on the floor yesterday. Nicknamed the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) bill, the objective is to provide funding for the support and training of specialized forensic nurses in cases of sexual assault. The appropriation was for $200,000 in grant funds through the department of health for qualifying community-based or hospital-based sexual assault nurse examiner programs in the next biennium. The funding for this program was cut out of the bill by appropriation, leaving a shell that allows for a program that is based entirely on community or privately raised resources. Given the nature of our expanding population and increase in sexual assaults on a number of levels, this elimination of funding is troublesome – to say the least. Thankfully, this bill also lives to see conference committee, so there remains hope of reinstating the much-needed finances to effectively expand this program into more North Dakota communities.
On a GOOD note! We did pass HB 1244 yesterday – a bill to allow state employees to use up to six weeks of their earned sick or vacation time to care for a newborn or adopted child. Beyond the use of the earned time, the really big thing with this bill is that for the first time, dads will be allowed to benefit from this opportunity as well as moms. In the private sector, this type of permissive leave policy has been the standard in most major corporations for a number of years. Successfully moving our public employees in this direction provides them with much-needed flexibility and security in the care of their newly formed families.
The days are counting down now as the need to remain diligent rises to a feverish pitch. The days are long and the evenings short as we do our best to strategically navigate bills to success – or defeat. Please let us know if there is a bill near and dear to your heart. Call, e-mail or text any questions or concerns you may have. A partnered approach is generally that which wins the day!
Representative Gail Mooney