By Tom Gerhardt, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello to all of our members and supporters of North Dakota United! North Dakota United is your professional association, and your voice in the Capitol, on the ground during every legislative session, speaking out for the questions and concerns that our members have with the legislative process. This weekly message is our NDU Legislative Update, in which we take a moment to recap everything that has happened in the previous week at the Capitol, and ask all of YOU to assist our efforts by calling your legislators and telling them about the value of the services you provide to students and citizens of our great state. You can make the difference in defeating bad legislation, and helping advance those bills that strengthen our education system and government institutions in North Dakota.
Allow me to take a moment to reintroduce myself. I’m Tom Gerhardt, Director of Public Affairs for North Dakota United. I’m fairly new here, and this session is my first foray in lobbying at the Capitol. Previously, I spent 26 years in broadcast news. I was the News Director and Anchor for KXMB in Bismarck, so I know this terrain pretty well. I am spending a lot of time meeting new people and building relationships at the Capitol with lawmakers and government employees. And, I’m busy meeting all of you, too! My e-mail is email@example.com, and my proverbial e-office door is always open. Drop me a line anytime you wish. I work for all of you, and I’d love to say hello and learn more about all of you!
You’ll be hearing from me every Friday during session in this, our weekly NDU Legislative Update, as our staff of lobbyists works to keep you informed during this 65th Legislative Assembly. NDU Director of Communications Kelly Hagen is returning for another session of editing and sending out these messages to all of you, which he assures me he has experience in doing during previous sessions of communications from NDU to all of our members. I’d like to now give him a second of your attention to say hello. Go for it, Mr. Hagen. (Hello. – editor’s note)
I’m definitely learning a lot during these opening moments of the legislative session. For instance, If there is one thing I learned this week, it’s that I need to prepare better for the walk from my car to the Capitol. Check out this picture of me after day one, which is totally not a screen capture of Leonardo DiCaprio from “The Revenant”!
(Don’t believe him. That is almost certainly Leo DiCaprio. – editor’s note)
I’m not the only one new to the Capitol this session. There are nearly three dozen new lawmakers to go along with the latest estimate of a $2 billion revenue shortfall, so this session is one that deserves our full attention and also input from you, our members.
The week started with Gov. Doug Burgum’s State of the State address, where he thanked and gave props to all our members’ great work, saying, “Too often we take for granted the importance of public servants on the front lines. They keep our roads plowed, teach our kids and keep our environment safe. We are indebted to your dedication and service.”
That was nice. Right?
Governor Burgum did not get into specifics about pay or health insurance coverage or other issues that impact NDU members, only advancing that amendments would be offered at a later time and that now is the “right time for right-size government,” which gives all of us an indication that changes are to come.
On Wednesday, The Fargo Forum reported on the revenue shortfall following a report from Legislative Council staff showing a nearly 35% drop from last biennium. The Bismarck Tribune recognized that’s about $1.1 billion less than what former Governor Jack Dalrymple talked about in final executive budget forecast in December.
Belt-tightening is the order of the day, and we’ll find out together how many additional notches will be needed as the session progresses. Rest assured, though, our staff at NDU is keeping an eye on a number of bills.
NDU president Nick Archuleta testified in a Senate Education Committee hearing on SB 2030 earlier this week. What began as a cleanup bill during previous legislative action to update all references of “North Dakota Education Association” in statute to “North Dakota United” took a turn after there was some concern that NDU had changed or evolved into a different organization. That further developed into an effort to take the NDU representative off of the Teacher Fund for Retirement (TFFR) board.
How rude. Right?
NDU President Nick Archuleta provided committee members an updated history on the merger that took place in 2013 and assured committee members of the importance of keeping NDU on the TFFR board. In his testimony, he cited the book “Pensions for Pedagogues” by Frank Vyzralek, which states, “The origins of North Dakota’s present Teachers Fund for Retirement are firmly rooted in the state’s professional teachers’ organization.” Archuleta went on to say as founding members of TFFR, NDU members have earned a seat on its Board of Directors.
Rest assured, we are working to protect your voice on the TFFR board.
This coming week, we’ll be keeping an eye on several bills including hearings for the Department of Public Instruction (HB 1013). We also have our eyes and ears set upon a number of bills in both the House and Senate Education Committees, including SB 2054, relating to higher education tuition fees and waivers for law enforcement officers, and HBs 1140, 1141, 1142 and 1143, which are related to membership of school board advisory committees, approval of new school construction projects and joint employment of school district superintendents.
While we are watching out for those bills, our poor, tired eyes will also be on the lookout for for any possible attacks on collective bargaining rights for our K-12 teachers or the pension systems for our state workers and K-12 employees, as well as a voucher bill that we’ve heard whispers about. Between reduced revenue forecasts, budget cuts to state agencies, our university system and education spending, and these possible attacks on our members and your professions, we feel a little bit like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “The Revenant,” who coincidentally wears the same winter coat as I do. We’re all just trudging through a forest in the dead of winter, and will need to keep an eye out for grizzly bears. We'll get through this together. United. But be sure to dress warm!
Also, be certain to join us for our next “This Week in the N.D. Legislature" chat on Facebook Live! Each 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, live and streaming 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 jobs and the invaluable work you do for every person in the state!