Capitol Letters – Week 6

The week in the North Dakota Legislature explained by Dem-NPL leadership in three minutes or less. Welcome to week six of Capitol Letters, where we aim to bring you a brief, relevant, and hopefully interesting snapshot of the goings-on here at the capitol.

Right and wrong. Right and left. Equal rights. Doing right by our kids. These concepts swirled in Bismarck this week, so we think it’s only right that we write them up in this week’s Capitol Letters. Because you have a right to know.

The right fights: Addressing the childcare crisis in North Dakota.

When we use the term “crisis” as we did above, we owe you a measure of candor in admitting that this loaded term may not be entirely accurate when it comes to the issue of childcare in North Dakota. As one childcare leader noted with well-placed urgency, it is actually “beyond critical, it’s beyond crisis” in many parts of the state.

We here at Capitol Letters aren’t sure what comes after “beyond crisis”  — “post-beyond crisis stage,” maybe? — but apparently that’s what the North Dakota House majority is waiting on before taking action to address critical childcare needs facing North Dakotans and their kids. This week, the House Human Service Committee voted to cut $13.3 million from a bipartisan bill that sought to address the (beyond) crisis in child care. Only $2.1 million remains.

For perspective’s sake, a recent study by First Children’s Finance indicated that Williston alone will require nearly $28 million in the next five years to bolster childcare in that single city. So it’s only slightly unfair to say the House committee’s actions would go so far as to address the childcare needs of a few city blocks in one North Dakota community.

Those are the numbers, but keep in mind we’re talking about real kids here.  (As an aside, this seems as good a time as any to gratuitously display adorable pictures of Mac’s daughter and Kenton’s grandkids.)

As noted recently by KFYR TV, “there are children going to work with their dads in truck[s] and staying in hotel rooms by themselves and even if they’re old enough, that’s not a good spot for them[.]” No. Not a good spot at all. Most of them probably can’t even drive a manual transmission or reach the plastic-wrapped cups left on the hotel sink by housekeeping.

Thankfully, our little sluggers have some fighters on their side in both the minority and majority caucuses, and they are working together on a bipartisan basis to meaningfully address this (beyond) crisis. Here’s to people like Senator Joan Heckaman of New Rockford and her across-the-aisle allies who are putting politics aside and our kids first. It’s the right fight for North Dakota.


Head-shaker of the week:

This week’s head-shaker also doubles as a Valentine’s Day heartbreaker. Yesterday, the Senate voted down SB 2252, a bill which would have amended the North Dakota Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public services.

Sadly, and perhaps somewhat unbelievably, it could have been worse. Prior to a vote on the underlying bill, the Senate considered a devious “hog house” amendment brought forth by Republican Senator David Hogue of Minot. As reported by the Bismarck Tribune, “[t]he Hogue amendment declared that the state doesn’t condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the amendment went on to say that there would be no cause [of] action to seek damages, nor would there be any additional protections provided to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals.”

So the amendments puff that North Dakota does not “condone” discrimination, but would not provide any recourse to victims of discrimination. In an admittedly uncreative and somewhat obvious retort, a Capitol Letters co-author responded by noting the dictionary definition of “condone,” which means to “accept and allow (behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive) to continue.”

Oh, and the amendments also would have allowed more discrimination on the basis of age in North Dakota and limit remedies to individuals who actually prove they lost their jobs due to discrimination. How does this relate to discrimination based on sexual orientation, you might ask? Not at all, we would respond. These amendments would have truly made SB 2252 a pro-discrimination bill.

Thankfully, these misguided amendments were voted down. But when it came to a vote on the bill itself, the final tally was 26 nays and 21 ayes. If the arc of the moral universe is long and bends towards justice, as Dr. King once said, we’ve got some more bending to do here in North Dakota. But we’ll keep tugging.

That’s enough for this week.  Thanks for your readership and faithful support. Remember to like us on Facebook!

Mac Schneider                              Kenton Onstad
Senate Democratic Leader           House Democratic Leader

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