Capitol Letters – Week 8

Day 38 marks the halfway point of the 80 day legislative session (.475 point for the green-eye-shade-wearing math lovers out there) and the start of crossover break. As your co-authors clack out this week’s edition of Capitol Letters, legislators have gassed up their cars and are making idle chit chat with their colleagues as they prepare to get out of town for five day weekend.

Get out of town? That might be an appropriate reaction to some of the moves by your elected representatives thus far this legislative session. To help you determine whether this expression is best employed in the idiomatic or literal sense, we’ve compiled a brief recap of the top five head-shaking moments during the first half of the session. And to bring you back up, we’ve put together the top five “right fights” being waged here in Bismarck.

Head shakers: top five

5. Pro-discrimination amendments to an anti-discrimination bill

Innocently enough, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill, SB 2252, which would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in North Dakota. Not so innocently, the bill was amended at the urging of Senator David Hogue to 1) expressly state that victims of discrimination on this basis had no rights; 2) widen permissible age discrimination in North Dakota; and 3) limit remedies to those who actually prove they lost their jobs because of discrimination based on race, religion, gender or other reasons. The amendments were thankfully defeated, but so was the bill.

4. Corporate tax cuts over property tax cuts

Both parties agree that we should cut taxes. But Dem-NPL legislators are focused on cutting the taxes people really dislike: property taxes. Not so the GOP majority, which this week shot down a Dem-NPL floor amendment to SB 2156 that would have re-directed $250 million in permanent tax cuts for corporations and reductions in the personal income tax towards deeper property tax relief (reducing property taxes by 12.5%). Now, the bill goes forward with $50 million in cuts to the corporate income tax, 82% of which was paid by out-of-state corporations according to the last year for which data is available.

3. Napping on daycare

We’ve previously discussed the “beyond crisis” we’re facing when it comes to access to childcare in North Dakota. Unfortunately, the House majority is asleep on a carpet square on this issue. A bipartisan bill to partially address this crisis was gutted by House appropriators, leaving kids and parents to fend for themselves.

2. Spilled milk

Speaking of kids, the House’s vote to deny low-income children a carton of milk during snack time has been a widely-covered head shaker. Dem-NPL appropriators in the Senate will be working to right this wrong, because sometimes it’s about snack breaks rather than tax breaks.

1. A radical and reckless cut to the oil extraction tax

The Senate passed SB 2336 this week, a radical and reckless proposal to cut the oil extraction tax for new oil wells drilled in 2017 and beyond. The cost of the cut to the extraction tax is conservatively projected by the Legislative Council to be $595 million in the first five years alone. The GOP retorts that it closes loopholes to pay for this massive cut. It doesn’t. Check out the page A1, below the fold coverage in the Fargo Forum here and arm yourself with the facts about this radical and reckless bill by clicking here. By the looks of this Forum poll, the overwhelming people agree that the GOP’s oil extraction tax cut is radical and reckless. Did we mention the plan is radical and reckless? It is definitely radical. And awfully reckless.

The right fights: top five

5. (Tie) Protecting young and old with Caylee’s Bill and elder abuse reporting

SB 2125, introduced by our young gun, Senator Tyler Axness, protects kids by requiring caretakers to report a missing child. Informally known as Caylee’s Bill, the legislation passed the Senate earlier this month.

For our older citizens, Senator Phil Murphy introduced and helped pass legislation, SB 2323, to require mandatory reporting of elder abuse, a feat that is especially impressive considering the Senate Appropriations Committee had recommended a “do not pass” on the bill. Phil tipped ‘em over on the floor, and our seniors will be better off for it.

4. Shining light on corporate and union political spending

This one hasn’t gotten much press attention, but it’s important: Dem-NPL legislators from both chambers have led a bipartisan effort to respond to the Citizens United line of cases, which served to essentially strike down North Dakota’s ban on political spending by corporations and unions. Legislation introduced by a Capitol Letters co-author to require strict disclosure of corporate and union political expenditures has advanced as part of a broader elections bill, aiming to keep state elections free from the corrupting influence of anonymous spending by well-heeled special interests.

3. Property tax cuts for real, live North Dakota residents

Tax cutter Jim Dotzenrod, former chair of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and now the Dem-NPL’s senior member on that panel, successfully included a provision in a broader tax bill, SB 2036, which would provide a $25,000 reduction in the value of a primary residence for property tax purposes. That’s real relief for working people who own their homes and have been hit by rising property values in recent years.

2. Hooray for pre-k

States across the country, including Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alabama, are rushing to guarantee access to pre-kindergarten for four year olds. While we aren’t exactly “rushing” to do so in North Dakota, we had good news out of the Senate this week when the full body rejected the Senate Appropriations Committee’s unfavorable recommendation and voted to fund pre-kindergarten programs in our state. This longstanding priority of the Dem-NPL will have a tough fight in the House, but we’ve got some tough fighters for our kids in our caucuses.

1. Medicaid expansion

Call it health care reform. Call it Obamacare, if you want. We call Medicaid expansion a common sense opportunity to expand access to health care for working North Dakotans and help shore up our providers’ bottom lines while we’re at it (this broad coalition agrees). Medicaid expansion passed the House yesterday by a pleasantly surprising margin. I guess that means Medicaid expansion isn’t just a Dem-NPL priority anymore, and we’re fine with that. So call it what you will. It looks like we’ll soon be calling Medicaid expansion the law.

More after the break

As astonished as you are at some of the majority’s actions, your Capitol Letters co-authors can tell you that you should be exceptionally proud of your Dem-NPL legislators. They are fighting the right fights and, more often than you might think, winning them. We’re honored serve with a group that is both effective and compassionate.

More when we return to Bismarck on Wednesday. So after you’re done liking us on Facebook, please enjoy the rest of the week. As always, keep the faith.

Mac Schneider

Kenton Onstad

Dem-NPL News of the Week

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