Caucus Talk – Week 8

House Dems’
— Caucus Talk —
2013 Legislative Session

Thursday, February 28, 2013

            And… It’s the final countdown! Ba-da-da daaa, Ba-da-da-da daaa — alright, enough trumpet, on with the last Caucus Talk before Crossover! With all the bills of the first half of the 2013 Legislative Session behind us and only a few days before the ol’ House-Senate bill switcharoo, our House Dems are kept their patience, ensuring that each bill got its full due attention, despite the temptation to rush to the light at the end of the legislative tunnel. So, looking back on the past eight weeks, let’s review the progress we’ve made as a caucus.

Our triumphs as the House Democratic caucus this Legislative Session have varied between getting important bills passed and also bringing awareness to extremely important issues — issues that, to be frank, won’t get the attention they need with a single party monopolizing the legislature. Still, House Democrats have kept you, the public, in the loop about our efforts, whether on the topic of our state’s low-income families’ needs, helping our communities keep up with the oil industry, support for our public schools, anti-discrimination among our residents, health care and property tax relief. So let’s re-cap!

A Boost to Those in Need

Whether in terms of nutritious snacks for K-3rd graders (HB 1421), higher ed. grants for students (HB 1303), assisted living centers for the elderly (HB 1012), state funding for Pre-K children (HB 1356), nutrition programs (HB 1176), or health care in the form of Medicaid expansion (HB 1362), along with many more efforts, urging provisions for our low-income residents and families have been the priority of House Democrats.

A giant success coming out of our support for those financially most in need is the House passing HB 1362, which says North Dakota will accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion. The expansion allots for ~13,000 individuals in North Dakota who would qualify for Medicaid coverage, but cannot afford it. Watching both Republicans and Democrats on the House floor come together and speak above the nature of partisanship and instead on behalf of those in need of Medicaid insurance was uplifting. Despite the Republican distaste for the Affordable Care Act, 57 members of the House realistically voted in support of the bill, considering that North Dakota taxpayer dollars would be spent in support of the federal expansion regardless of our choice to reap the expansion’s benefits.

Oil & the State

North Dakota’s booming oil industry has created a number of concerns and controversy for our legislative assembly to act on — namely, consumer protection provisions in regard to pipeline easements (HB 1407), keeping oil and gas production tax revenue in oil industry counties (HB 1318), the conservation of oil and gas (HB 1420), mediation between mineral owners and surface developers (HB 1352), imposing a timeline for drilling operations (HB 1355) and an oil extraction tax reduction (HB 1234) — a bill we strongly opposed.

In terms of the North Dakota oil industry, House Dems saw large success with HB 1352 in ensuring fair mediation in disputes among mineral owners and surface developers working on their land through the North Dakota Mediation Service or through a civil mediator. House Democrats also took a strong stance on opposing HB 1234, which would have provided a tax reduction among out-of-state oil companies for oil and gas production. We stood strongly and made our point that the state should focus our efforts and finances on our residents — not on out-of-state oil companies. While North Dakota should be interested in staying competitive among other large oil developments, such as the Eagleford oil development in Texas, the state also has a larger responsibility to focus tax relief to its struggling citizens and to close the stripper well loophole, which the Republican-sponsored bill did nothing to address. This is where our priorities should lie, and this is what your House Dems stood for in the press conference with our join House and Senate leadership.

Property Tax and Schools

One of House Dems’ biggest goals this Legislative Session was to provide property tax relief to its citizens and to continue our ongoing efforts for further state aid to our school districts. While numerous bills were put forth from House members across the aisle to address property tax relief, it was finally achieved alongside funding support to North Dakota schools in HB 1319.

The final bill with amendments took 20% of the original bill’s funding to schools and re-appropriated it to the bill’s property tax relief. Originally, when Governor Dalrymple introduced HB 1319, he made a very clear point that this was not meant to be a property tax relief bill. HB 1319 was written to address the need for additional state funding to its school districts through the notions of adequacy and efficiency. However, a lack of compromise and legislation on property tax through any other proposed bill put legislators in the position to do what they could with the tax relief in 1319. Ideally, Democrats would have liked to have seen the original bill’s funding to schools, with a separate bill addressing the need for property tax relief and reform. Ultimately though, both goals were achieved through the Governor’s bill, and hopefully, we can see some improvements made by the Senate after Crossover. Democrats in this state have long been after additional funding for our public schools, so any steps in that direction are absolutely worth cheers and a beer!

Final Note

While the House Democratic caucus is small in numbers relative to the Republican supermajority, this imbalance has been a happily accepted challenge for your Democratic representatives to put sincere effort into our discussions, amendments, arguments and votes. Apathy has no place in making significant progress in the face of a supermajority. So while anyone viewing the public footage of the House and Senate chambers on the floor may have seen Republicans making foolish and all too often absurd statements, it is clear that these folks can afford to be witless with their comments, but only for the time being. Any laziness Republicans have allowed themselves in holding a double standard with their votes or veering off-message will come back to bite them if the you, the public, does its civil duty to elect those who will speak on behalf of you, and not out of partisanship.

North Dakota’s Democratic legislators have fought hard for you and understand what it means to put full effort into making sure that the bills they sponsor and advocate for are the best and most beneficial bills for North Dakota. When it comes time to elect legislators into office again, come November 2014, vote for the balance needed. In the meantime, your House Dems are proud to fight for what matters to North Dakota, not for what matters to partisan efforts.

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