By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

From bills dealing with license plates, to “porn vending machines” and rumble strips on our roads (HB 1284) it’s been another interesting (Let’s call it weird. – editor’s note) week for legislators at the Capitol.

The session seems to be off to a bit of a slow (weird - editor's note) start, but that didn’t stop House Majority Leader Al Carlson from saying he believes lawmakers can keep the session to 70 days (woo hoo! – editor’s note), saving 10 for work that may need to be done later on if the Affordable Care Act gets the boot under the Trump administration.

While those were some of the headline grabbers, North Dakota United has been hard at work for you, keeping a strong and attentive presence at the Capitol. Our lobbying team has attended several committee hearings and floor sessions, in order to keep a close watch on issues affecting you, our members. As we established last week, I’m fairly new to the lobbying scene. But I learn quickly! The week-one cold temperatures have very graciously taught me that it is much better to have my wife drop me off at the Capitol, or to catch a ride with NDU President Nick Archuleta, who has an uncanny ability at finding open parking spots close to the Capitol doors.

Let’s start with an update and some great news. We told you about SB 2030 last week. I’m happy to tell you the Senate Education Committee amended North Dakota United back into the bill, giving us the ability to nominate candidates to the Teachers Fund for Retirement (TFFR) Board. The committee gave it a unanimous DO PASS recommendation, and it hit the Senate floor today, where it was passed unanimously 46-0. You can read the text of the original SB 2030 here: http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/65-2017/documents/17-8092-01000.pdf

As mentioned, NDU staff attended a number of hearings this week, including SB 2054, relating to higher education tuition and fees waivers for law enforcement officers; HB 1013, which is the budget bill for DPI; SB 2130, which has to do with defaulted student loan collection (Bank of North Dakota would like to switch from judicial to administrative-hearing process); HB 1153, which would limit recruitment and retention bonuses in the governors office; HB 1148, which would give firefighters the opportunity to join NDPERS if their political subdivisions (cities, towns) opted in, and HB 1140, which deals with membership on school board advisory committees; and many more.

Several of you emailed me last week with your questions, comments and concerns on bills. HB 1168 drew a lot of attention. The bill would restrict compensation and travel reimbursement for public employees attending legislative meetings. The bill will be in Government and Veterans Affairs (GVA) Committee on Thursday at 9:00 a.m.  

Please continue to email or call! I work for you. If I don’t know the answer, I will find it. My hope is to communicate with all of you, or better yet, have coffee with you all. I really like coffee. Strong, bold-flavored coffee. Just ask NDU Director of Communications Kelly Hagen. (He really likes coffee. I do not. If you blended us together into one person, you’d have a person who likes coffee the average amount. – editor’s note) I brought a two-pound bag of coffee to share with staff before I bothered to decorate my office.

Priorities, people! And who doesn’t drink out of a porcelain cup these days? 

While we are on the topic of coffee, let’s talk more about ol' coffee-hating Kelly and give our beloved editor his weekly opportunity to say hello to all of you! (Hello. I like being talked about. – editor’s note)

There hasn’t been a lot of movement in higher education. On Monday, Senate Appropriations will begin hearing SB 2003, which deals with North Dakota University System budgets. Those hearings continue through Wednesday and include individual hearings for all individual budgets.

NDU President Nick Archuleta will testify on a number of bills this coming week, including SB 2186, aimed at improving student educational performance; SB 2194, which is a pre-K bill; HB 1029, relating to acceptance of federal funds; SB 2180, relating to the intent to refuse federal education funding tied to federal mandates; and HB 1168, which I mentioned earlier that many of you emailed me about. That’s just a sampling. We’ll make sure Nick’s voice is good and rested, and ready to go. I tend to think coffee is great for soothing the overworked voicebox, but I could be wrong. (He is wrong. – editor’s note) Plus, make sure to follow the official NDU Twitter account, @NDUnited, as well as your lobbying team, @NDUNick, @ChadOban and @bistom, for updates throughout the week.

Also, a reminder to join us for our next “This Week in the N.D. Legislature" chat on Facebook Live! Every Monday at 4:30 p.m. CST during session, I'll be talking to NDU President Nick Archuleta about what is happening at the Capitol, and we're going to stream that conversation for you on social media. Tune in and ask us questions in the comments. We want all of our members to know what is going on at the Capitol as it relates to your personal and professional lives, and the invaluable work you do for every person in the state!

United together, we can make a difference!