2/27/15 - Week 8
2/20/15 - Week 7
2/13/15 - Week 6
2/6/15 - Week 5
1/30/15 - Week 4
1/23/15 - Week 3
1/16/15 - Week 2
1/9/15 - Week 1

 

 

Week 8

House Slices Into Higher Education Appropriation

 

Normally in this space, you’d be hearing from our NDU Assistant Executive Director for Political Advocacy, Stuart Savelkoul. But then there was Crossover.

 

On Thursday, the Legislature wrapped up the first half of the session, advancing 599 bills across the divide for the other side to vote on, and recessing until next week.

 

Stuart, meanwhile, has not been heard from since that moment when Crossover was reached. There was a loud yelp, which sounded vaguely like “Spring Break!” Then a blur of rapid movement, and the last we saw of him was his car speeding south. Before he left, he didn’t complete his Legislative Update.

 

I, his earnest, erstwhile editor, will have to step up and put together the following update, based only on notes found carved furiously into his desk.

 

Before THEY left town, the North Dakota House of Representatives continued its blood feud with the North Dakota University Systemby affirming a number of treacherous provisions inside HB 1003, the higher education appropriations bill.

 

Within HB 1003, the House decided to “tinker” with the funding formula that was just put into place in the last legislative session, which would have funded schools based on completed credit hours, and more accurately allocated funds to those campuses that are seeing increased enrollment and retention. Seemed like a good formula. And out the window it went.

 

North Dakota University System Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt reported to the State Board of Higher Education that HB 1003 “decreases the weight put on completed remedial course hours, changes the institutional size factor, and in an attempt to recognize lack of economy of scale, changes the credit hour completion factor in a way so that it generates more credit hours at some campuses and fewer at others.”

 

The Governor called for a $333.7 million increase for higher education in his budget request. HB 1003 cuts that increase down to $139.8 million. 

 

To say that our university presidents were displeased would be an understatement. Williston State College President Raymond Nadolnysaid his college would have to cut faculty and staff. Valley City State University President Tisa Mason reported that some of her employees already need to rely on free and reduced lunch vouchers to put food in their children’s mouths. 

 

In addition, the House voted to eliminate auditor and attorney positions in the University System office, and instead add six new positions under the Attorney General’s office to oversee the University System. That would seem to mean that there will be workers who will lose their jobs under this plan and be forced to apply for these new positions, as well as possibly move to Bismarck to work at the Capitol.

 

I think this is an absolutely terrible idea,” said Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo. “… These are North Dakota folks who have families to raise and children in school.”

 

Both sections of HB 1003 passed the House. It will now be up to the Senate to do some tinkering of its own. Keep an eye on the NDU websiteFacebook and Twitter for updates, and your e-mail for calls to action. Or contact your legislator, and let them know that the higher education funding formula as established really ought to have been given a chance. 

 

That’s all for this week. Keep your eyes peeled to your computer screens or smart phones for whatever icon it is that alerts you that you've received a new e-mail, because an e-mail being sent to you next week will contain our official NDU Crossover Report. You can see how legislation important to our members fared in the first half of the session, and how all of our favorite (and less favorite) legislators voted on these bills.

 

And if anyone sees Stuart, tell him to call the office. We're worried.

 

Week 7

The Kasper Strikes Back

 

North Dakota’s “well-being” is apparently in rapid decline (and I feel fine), but after this week, I think that I am starting to understand why. I believe a lot of people could stand to be a little nicer to each other.

 

Rep. Jim Kasper has had anything but a quiet legislative session.

 

Consider:

•    He led the quixotic charge against Common Core (HB 1461), a proposal labeled by the Fargo Forum as “ideological claptrap masquerading as education reform.”

•    He made headlines for shutting down debate in his committee over a bill that has gotten panned by the Fargo Forum, the Grand Forks Herald, and the Bismarck Tribune.

•    And this week, he stopped just short of calling one of you a liar.

 

HB 1154 was narrow in focus. It sought to help out a small group of state employees who were given very bad advice back in 1999. Back then, unclassified employees were given the opportunity to switch from the defined benefit retirement plan (DB) to a defined contribution retirement plan (DC). Workers Compensation (known today as Workforce Safety and Insurance) was believed, by some, to be headed for privatization. For this reason, many of their employees were warned that if they did not make the switch that they would lose access to their retirement.

 

Well, Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) never privatized, so those concerns proved to be unwarranted. HB 1154 was designed to allow these individuals to rejoin the DB plan – at no cost to the fund or the taxpayer.

 

While speaking against HB 1154, Rep. Kasper said, “It’s very easy to make accusations when the people you’re making accusations aren’t there to give you the other side of the story.” One has to consider that to be an interesting statement/accusation to make about our members when they weren’t in the House Chamber to give anyone “the other side of the story.” Our members are not liars, and we will be happy to provide the Representative from District 46 with evidence disproving several of the claims he made in his speech.

 

HB 1154 received a 9-5 “do pass” recommendation from the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, but came up just 8 votes shy of passing the House. We may have an opportunity to revive this issue in the Senate after Crossover.

 

Y'know, sometimes ideas occur to me right out of the blue. Just a flash of light and, BOOM! An idea! And here's a wild one: I'd like to remind you that North Dakota United has a Political Action Committee, and that we solicit voluntary contributions from our members to help us elect friendly legislators who champion the issues of our members. What we do not do is give money to those folks who don't like our issues. That's a promise. Checks can be made out to UPAC and sent to 301 N. 4th St, Bismarck, ND 58501.

 

As usual, I try to give you a little good with the bad, so let’s talk about SB 2355. This is the bill that would have put the Education Standards and Practices Board under the control of the Department of Public Instruction. We opposed the bill because, as President Nick Archuleta said, “If this legislation passes, teachers will be the only profession not in charge of licensing its own members.” We were not the only folks to oppose this bill. Many of you contacted your legislators about this issue and as a result this bill was turned into a “study.” This means that instead of changing any actual law or policy, it is simply going to research what the consequences of such a change might have. In the vernacular of lobbyists, this kind of thing is frequently referred to as “death by study,” and while you never like to see it happen to a bill you support, it’s not so bad when it happens to a bill you don’t like.

 

We have just one week left before Crossover. Then the legislators will go home for a couple of days, and that’s good because no bad laws ever got passed while the legislators were on break. If that won’t cause an uptick in your well-being, then I don’t know what will.

 

Before that, I urge all of you to "study" the NDU Facebook page, or our Twitter profile, or maybe even check out our videos on YouTube to hear members tell their stories about why they joined North Dakota United. Because, when we ask for a study at NDU, it's usually a good thing.

 

Week 6

Ups and Downs, and Here Come the Cuts

 

This year's session of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly is very up and down, thus far. It’s much hillier terrain than you can typically find in the North Dakota landscape. So, obviously, everyone involved feels more than a little carsick. Or motion sick. Or some kind of sick.

 

Speaking of sick, let’s talk about what they're doing with state employee compensation. You knew this was coming. To borrow the very first sentence of this article from the Grand Forks Herald: “House and Senate budget writers are trimming Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposed salary increases for state employees, citing uncertainty about dwindling revenues because of slumping crude oil prices.” 

 

Looking at this first appropriations bill, the Senate has taken the governor’s proposed 4 percent raises both years, along with equity funding (to move up the salaries of those state workers who are exceedingly far behind the market) and they've cut it down to a 3 and 3, with no equity funding.

While the higher education budgets have not been passed out yet, our higher education faculty and staff can expect to see their salary package similarly adjusted to mirror that of their colleagues in state government. 

 

Senate Democrats offered an unsuccessful amendment to insert a trigger that would increase the second year’s pay increase from 3 percent to 5 percent, if revenues come in 5 percent or more above projections. 

 

So, stay tuned to NDU, via Facebook or Twitter, our website and these e-mails for future action.  

 

Wednesday represented the final showdown between Rep. Kasper and Co. vs. the entire N.D. education community, the business community, and Governor Dalrymple. HB 1461, the bill to eliminate Common Core State Standards in North Dakota, and replace them with an I.O.U. (one set of education standards), came to a floor vote, and the action was intense.

 

The bill was divided into two parts, and an hour and a half of floor debate was marked by some rather lively back-and-forth, and highlighted by House Education Committee Chairman Mike Nathe affirming that the “vast majority” of educators in our state supported these standards, and asked, “What is wrong with raising the bar and challenging our students?”

 

Rep. Nathe and his colleagues in the House asked for the perspectives of educators, and North Dakota United  responded. Our members testified in committee. You signed the NDU Student Success petition, and you e-mailed and called your legislators to tell them your thoughts. 

 

THANK YOU for everything you did in defeating this billYou made the difference. 

 

Before I sign off, (fingers to temple) I know what you're thinking. ”That Stuart, he has all the fun. He gets to hang out with Nick and Fern and all those nice men and women serving in the Legislature. Plus, he gets to mow down on all that delicious cafeteria food. I sure wish that I knew what that was like." 

 

You're in luck, because I would be happy to show you exactly what that is like on any day that it fits into your schedule. If you ever get the itch to come up to the Capitol as a citizen lobbyist, just shoot me an email and I will be happy to find a friendly legislator for you to sit with on the floor. We could put you to work singing songs of the work you do and/or twisting the arms of your local legislators. If you're really lucky, you might even get called out of order by a committee chair.   

 

Come for the salisbury steak - stay for the debating and lawmaking.

 

Week 5

Saved by the Bell for Another Week

 

Well, another week is in the books, and it was a Big One. Capital letters and bold text. Let's get to reviewing it.

 

We had hearings on Common Core and discrimination based on sexual orientation, plus votes on teacher collective bargaining, guns in schools, and harassment in the workplace. Tongue firmly in cheek, I tell you this all paled in comparison to the news that (spoiler alert) The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon attended Bayside High School. To paraphrase the immortal Zack Morris, “I like the legislative session … it’s a good way to kill time between weekends.”

 

The hearing to repeal the North Dakota State Standards (Common Core) in North Dakota was long. Really long. Five hours, if you didn't click on that link. However, after a five-hour hearing and still more hours of committee deliberations, the House Education Committee voted 9-4 to give a “do not pass” recommendation to HB 1461That’s a good sign, but I’m not one to count my Seahawks before they hatch.

 

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed HB 1195 by a vote of 53-38. It seeks to allow teachers and other school employees with concealed weapons permits to carry guns at school.The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Dwight Kiefert (R-Valley City) offered some inflammatory remarks during his floor speech suggesting that schools do not want to assume responsibility for the safety of students. He went so far as to accuse the opposition to his bill of wanting to “sit comfortably at the funeral [after a school shooting] and blame the Legislature for not giving them the right to choose.” He concluded his comments by alluding to the students visiting the Legislature that day, saying to his colleagues, “Before you vote no, I’d ask you to maybe take one of these kids aside and explain to them the zigzag pattern to run to help increase their chances of survival.” (I'm not bolding any of those comments because they're horrible.)

 

I'll take a moment for you to properly gasp. Go ahead. Gasp. Properly. ... And now you know: debate on the floor of the North Dakota House of Representatives is nothing if not classy.

 

We will need to work together to defeat HB 1195 in the Senate. Follow NDU on Twitter or like us on Facebook for updates on this bill and all the others we are tracking during session, and keep an eye on your e-mail for Action Alerts.

 

HB 1428 is an important piece of legislation, prime-sponsored by NDU member Rep. Josh Boschee (D-Fargo). This bill was drafted at our request and seeks to provide protection from harassment and workplace bullying to all of our state employees. It passed the House of Representatives 91-0, so perhaps I need to stop being so critical of the fine men and women serving in that august chamber.

 

Still, though. Guns in school. Oof.

 

Finally, I would like to highlight HB 1403, prime-sponsored by Rep. Mary Schneider (D–Fargo) which would allow state employees suffering from domestic violence to use their accrued sick leave to address their needs related to the abuse. NDU supports this bill because it represents good policy that offers support to our state workers who sacrifice so much for us day in and day out. It is unlikely to cost the state a dime and should help us to retain (and protect) some of our quality employees. Please contact your House members and ask them to support HB 1403.

 

There you have it folks, 24 of the 80 legislative days are in the books. Still well short of the end zone, but we keep marching down the field. Until we're half a yard away and then ... Beast Mode. No passing. That's a promise.

 

Friends Forever!

 

 

Week 4

A Somewhat Super Week That Was

 

Super Bowl Sunday is mere hours away, so I suspect most of you reading this are stocked up on chips and dips and melted cheeses. I know I am.

 

If we were to look at each legislative session as if it were the NFL regular season, and North Dakota United is my team, I like to think that I am called "the Tom Brady of North Dakota lobbyists" behind my back by legislators and other players at the Capitol. Not just because of my Justin Bieber haircut, but also because I'm just so incredibly modest about myself and my organization. I should be proud, though -- and I am -- of everything our NDU team accomplishes, at the Capitol, in our schools, at our universities, in public institutions and in city, county and state government each and every day, not just on Sundays. But I think they have different nicknames for me at the Capitol.

 

On to this week's NDU Legislative Update.

 

HB 1251 was heard by the House Education Committee on Monday morning. It is a particularly nasty piece of legislation designed to punish teachers for participating in the process of negotiations with school boards. In its original form, it would eliminate retroactive pay for teachers when contract negotiations go beyond the start of school. This represented a significant departure from the long-held understanding between school boards and teachers that teachers’ hard work during the school day, even in the absence of a negotiated agreement, should be compensated at the correct rate. In opposition to this bill, the committee received fine testimony from President Archuleta and our attorney, Mike Geiermann. That testimony, along with your phone calls and the awesome lobbying efforts of our own Fern Pokorny, resulted in the removal of the retroactive pay provision from the bill. Those of you who know me well know that I’m never one to brag --- but “Touchdown! Way to go, NDU! I totally look like Tom Brady!”

 

Tuesday’s morning was dominated by the issue of guns in schools. If passed, HB 1195 would allow teachers and other school employees with concealed weapons permits to carry guns at school. We opposed this bill because while we believe teachers are, indeed, superheroes (more so than anyone believes I am Tom Brady), we do not believe they are a substitute for law enforcement professionals. We were not alone in our opposition to this bill. Organizations representing our state’s school administrators (NDCEL) and school boards (NDSBA) also spoke against it. NDSBA’s Jon Martinson spoke plainly, forcefully, and effectively, saying “We fought this last session; somebody still thinks this is a good idea?” This bill has been sent out of committee with a “Do-Pass” recommendation, so, now would be a very good time to contact both of your House members to ask for a NO vote.

 

It wasn’t all bad this week, though. I spent Thursday morning with the Senate GVA Committee for a couple of very nice bills that aim to help people, including SB 2258, which is sponsored by NDU’s newest member Senator Erin Oban. This bill would grant paid family leave to state employees. As she said in her testimony, “I understand the North Dakota state government isn’t Google, but we try to replicate good business practice within our government all the time. Studies from 1989 to 2014 provide substantial evidence that paid leave is good policy not just for the families it benefits, but for their employers as well. In the case of SB 2258, the employer is the state – us – and we get to determine whether or not that business practice is passed on to our employees.” Contacting the members of this committee to ask for their support would certainly be a good way for you to spend 5 minutes.

 

That's all for this week. Look for President Nick Archuleta's preview of This Week in the Legislature to arrive in your in-boxes on Monday. Be sure to like North Dakota United on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, to get updates on what's happening at the Capitol as it happens. And enjoy the game on Sunday, if I haven't already ruined it for you. It should be a good contest, and the air pressure inside the footballs should be fantastic. Right at regulation, I'd be willing to bet. Enjoy your nachos; I know I will.

 

I'm Tom Brady, signing off.

 

Week 3

Week 3 and Already Feeling Threatened

 

On Tuesday, I testified in opposition to HB 1157, a bill that would allow elected officials to carry concealed weapons in the state Capitol and other public buildings. Our members have been clear and consistent on issues like this. You have told us, more guns make you feel less safe.

 

The committee chairman, Kim Koppelman (who is coincidentally the father of the bill’s prime sponsor), asked me, “Mr. Savelkoul, this bill would only apply to public officials. Are you telling me that your members are threatened by their elected leaders?”



 

My response?

 



“Chairman Koppelman, N.D. United represents teachers and public employees. We get threatened every other year by you folks for about 80 days.”



 

And we laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

 

Only now, a few days later, I’m not sure it was much of a joke.

 

SB 2038 certainly represents a threat to our members’ retirement security. If passed, it would close the NDPERS defined benefit plan to all future state employees. Instead, new hires would have to settle for a defined contribution plan. When it comes to providing retirement income, defined benefit pensions are more efficient because they pool risks across a large number of individuals, invest over a longer time horizon, and have lower expenses and higher returns.

 

The research is clear; DC plans offer half the benefit for the same price of a DB plan.

 

Our state government is facing real challenges in the recruitment and retention of quality employees. Reducing our retirement benefit will make it even harder for the state to recruit highly qualified employees. It will surely result in a wave of retirements and resignations as the future prospect of meaningful salary increases will be threatened by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by this bill to provide a lesser benefit to future employees. I guess what I’m saying is, this bill is a really bad idea.

 

My teacher friends, make no mistake, if this should pass, the Teachers Fund for Retirement will be next. 2038 had its public hearing yesterday and former State Representative Bette Grande was on hand (#throwbackthursday?) to testify on the bill just one day after blogging that TFFR is a “scam.” Please, rally your colleagues and contact your State Senators. Ask them to “Vote No on 2038.”

 

That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll see an attack on teacher collective bargaining, an assault on the integrity of salary schedules, and another guns bill – but this time in our schools.

 

Right. Why would educators and public employees ever feel threatened by their elected leaders?

 

Week 2

So Much Judds, No Germs

 

When I was a kid, we took a lot of car trips to Minot. My mom grew up in Minot. A lot of my family lived there. During those drives, my little sister and I would take turns selecting the music. During her turn, we listened to a cassette tape of the Judds. So. Much. The Judds. I frequently opted for the musical stylings of the legendary Ray Stevens (Editor’s note - Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a Ray Stevens reference in a legislative update.). He had a song called “Jeremiah Peabody's Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green And Purple Pills” that promoted a “wonder drug that cures all your ills.”

 

If such a remedy ever existed, it would have been incredibly popular at the North Dakota State Capitol this week as an illness consumed the legislative branch of government. By my count, 27 different House members (28 percent) missed at least one roll call. Nine different Senators (19 percent) missed at least one roll call this week as well. Of course that didn’t stop your ND United Lobby Team. We were up there every day, lending our voices to your issues – and apparently risking our health and well-being in the process!

 

The highlight of this week, for our members, had to be the overwhelmingly positive hearing for SB 2151, which, if passed, will provide the first-ever state funding for early childhood education that we have had in North Dakota history. Yes, we wish it provided more than just $6 million. Yes, we expressed reservations about the potential for this bill to serve as a segue into a voucher system. But neither of those issues can overshadow the fact that this is landmark legislation. As our NDU President Nick Archuleta said in his testimony, “early childhood education can be the great equalizer that benefits students throughout their academic careers.”

 

This week, we also testified against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund to be used to shore up public retirement funds (SCR 4003). I know, I know, it sounds great at first blush, but the truth is, NDPERS and TFFR are both on the path to recovery. The FAS Fund was created to guard against potential shortfalls in education, and we do not believe that this resolution is in keeping with that purpose.

 

Today, the Brynhild Haugland Room of the Capitol building was packed with hundreds of people for a couple of hearings about emergency funding for western infrastructure. There are two proposals: one from the Governor that he refers to as “jumpstart” funding, and the “surge” bill sponsored by lawmakers representing western districts. Both carry fiscal notes over $840 million and both appear to enjoy a lot of support.

 

So, my friends, there you have it. Two weeks in the books. And remember, the Judds may have taught us that “love can build a bridge,” but a “jump surge” can build about $850 million worth of bridges.

 

P.S. Look for a message later this weekend from President Archuleta previewing next week’s legislative activity. Also, be sure to like NDU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for the latest news on the Legislature, as it happens.

 

Week 1

This is Your First (of Many) Legislative Updates

 

As of 2:30 this afternoon, we are at least 5 percent of the way through the 2015 Legislative Session; and I am 100 percent convinced that we are in for a wild ride from beginning to end.

 

During this, North Dakota's 64th Legislative Session,  I will send you an update every Friday highlighting the week's events and actions impacting the professional lives of North Dakota's educators and public employees. If, at any point, you have a question regarding the legislative process or any bill in particular, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to respond.

 

So, without any further ado, here we go.

 

Uncertainty regarding the immediate future of oil prices has led to uncertainty regarding funding initiatives and tax relief. Several different "experts" have been invited to the Capitol Building to advise legislators on what to expect regarding crude prices and while all of them seem to have different projections, most seem to agree that the $73/barrel figure upon which Governor Dalrymple's budget was built is too high.

 

So what does that mean for North Dakota United? According to the Governor, not as much as you might think. In a recent interview with the Bismarck Tribune, Dalrymple said there’s no reason to be overly concerned about not being able to fund priorities, saying “I don’t see any real shock.”

 

Oil revenue is capped at $300 million in the state General Fund, and the rest goes to a number of various state funds.

 

It is so important that we, as members of NDU, actively engage in the dialogue around the issues important to our work, our communities, and the future of our state.

 

In addition to the consideration of the largest education funding bill in the history of North Dakota, legislators will debate pension reform for public employees, Common Core, salary increases for employees in state government and higher education, and various tax cut proposals.

 

As legislation is introduced and legislative hearings are scheduled, we will keep you in the loop so that you can be an informed and active leader in your community on NDU’s issues.

 

Four days down, perhaps as many as 76 to go. Oy.