4/30/15 - Week 17
4/24/15 - Week 16
4/17/15 - Week 15
4/10/15 - Week 14

4/3/15 - Week 13
3/27/15 - Week 12
3/20/15 - Week 11 
3/13/15 - Week 10
3/6/15 - Week 9
Weeks 1-8



Week 17

Legislative Update: Big Fight and Let's Go Home

If you’ve been reading these Legislative Updates (Editor's note -- Trademark pending), you’ve seen quite a few sports references over the course of this legislative session.

Let’s do one more. On Wednesday, Rep. Al Carlson, the Majority Leader of the North Dakota House of Representatives, took his ball and he went home.

This past Wednesday, the Legislature had one bill left on which to act. SB 2022 is an appropriation bill to fund the operations of the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System and the Retirement and Investment Office. This bill was not meant to cause excitement. The negotiations over salaries and benefits for the employees of these agencies had already been addressed in other bills. The only real debate that ought to have occurred on this bill was supposed to be whether or not to provide an extra employee or two to the agency.

However, this bill did not leave the House as a straight-forward appropriations bill. This bill, which was only 39 lines long in its initial form, had morphed into a 7-page piece of policy that sought to accomplish a couple of things that had no business appearing in an appropriations bill.

First, it attempted to resurrect some key components of HB 1475, which had been unanimously rejected by the state Senate last Thursday. North Dakota United was interested in HB 1475, but we took no position on it. This is because, while we appreciated the stated intent of the bill’s vocal sponsors, we questioned the potential for unintended consequences that could cost the state money down the road. While we did not have a position on 1475, we did object to its provisions being added to SB 2022 in a manner that threatened its necessary passage.

The House’s changes to the PERS/RIO budget bill also included an outrageous overreach of legislative authority in an attempt to increase the number of spots on the PERS board, from seven to nine members, and to mandate that four of those members are legislators.

So, if we're really going to dig down into the dirty details on this issue, the House attempted to make a rather large change to a board made up of representatives of public employees. They wanted to weaken the voice of active employees already on that board. They wanted to weaken YOUR voice, and replace it with THEIRS. And they wanted to do this without ever holding a public hearing, and not allowing anyone opposed to such a move to offer their own testimony in opposition. They didn't want you to know that they were doing it.

I'll just say it: Legislators have no place on an Executive Branch Committee. That's not their place. There is a separation of powers for a reason, in our state government and nationally. Certain leaders in the Legislature -- quite frankly, those in the House -- continually try to tread all over that line, and it was distressing to watch them walk out on such a sour note when they didn't get their way.

Anyway, this is our last Legislative Update e-mail for this session. It kind of feels like the end of school. If I had a yearbook for you all to sign, that's what we would be doing right now. But I don't. Instead, I have a teaser. Keep your eyes peeled and your hearts set on seeing a full NDU Legislative Wrap-Up soon, detailing all the legislation that passed, and those bills we were happy and/or sad to see fail, and grading every legislator on how they voted on the issues that matter most to public educators and employees. We will send this document directly to you in the e-mail, post it to you on the Internet, and mail it to you (tucked comfortably inside the next issue of United Voices). Promise.

Thank YOU, Kelly, for reading our weekly updates, for taking action and lending your voice to the cause of great public education and quality public services in North Dakota. You are the Warriors; you are the Tom Bradys, the Steph Currys, the MVPs of this session. They heard you, loudly and clearly, this time, and our voice will continue to grow, every subsequent session. Thank you for the great work you do, each and every day, when the Legislature is in session and when it is not.

And thank goodness for the days when it is not.


Week 16

Going the Way of the Warrior

The NBA Playoffs started last week, and if my memory is correct, they'll conclude sometime before the 2015 NFL season kicks off. Last night, during Game 3 of their series, the Golden State Warriors trailed the New Orleans Pelicans by 20 points after three quarters of play. Their odds of winning were practically nonexistent. But did the Warriors give up? No. They're Warriors. They came storming back to tie the game at 108 apiece on a wild three-pointer by Stephen Curry with only 3.5 seconds remaining in the game, and then won it in overtime, 128-119.

Just a couple of days ago, the education-funding formula was in danger of receiving just 2% increases each year of the biennium. Then, last night at an 8:00 p.m. conference committee meeting, a vote was taken to support biennial increases of 3% and 3%. You did it. You made the calls. You contacted your legislators. You made the difference. They may call me the "Tom Brady of North Dakota lobbyists," (Editor's note -- Don't worry; nobody calls him that.) but you folks are the team that really effects change at the Capitol. You're Steph Curry. We are Warriors!

Despite some adorably ambitious predictions to the contrary, the Legislature did not conclude their business on this, the 75th day. So it's kind of like they're going into overtime, even though they're technically allowed to stretch session out to 80 days. But they had said they wanted to finish in 75. Any real hopes of that happening were dashed by the introduction of HB 1476 last Friday. So, yeah. This is overtime.

This bill related to the oil-extraction tax and was primarily designed to do two things:

1) Remove the "big trigger" that would allow the oil extraction tax rate to go to zero if oil prices dip too low for too long.
2) Reduce the top oil-extraction tax rate from its current rate of 6.5% to 4.5%.

Proponents of the bill argued that the bill was necessary to provide predictability, stability, and fairness in the taxation of the oil industry. But those arguments didn't sway the Fargo Forum, they didn't sway the Grand Forks Herald, and they didn't sway us.

Opponents countered by saying that by reducing the oil extraction rate by 30%, the state stood to lose BILLIONS (capital b, capital -illions) in revenue in the years to come.

We opposed this bill, not because we consider ourselves to be authorities on tax policy, but because we believed legislation of this magnitude ought to be introduced well before the 70th day of the session. Bills that carry the potential of billion dollar price tags, should get more than mere hours of scrutiny. Wild idea, right? Due diligence? But we're Warriors, and that's just how we Warriors think.

The bill was amended in the Senate, resulting in these changes:

1) An oil extraction tax of 5%, which is 23% lower than the current rate of 6.5%, but higher than the 4.5% proposed in the bill's initial form.
2) The elimination of the "big trigger" as of Dec. 1, 2015.
3) The implementation of a "reverse trigger" for when oil goes above $90 barrel for three consecutive months, which will increase the extraction tax to 6%, and the overall tax rate to 11%.

Last night, this bill was the subject of nearly three hours of debate on the floor of the Senate. If you happen to have an extra three hours just sitting around, you might consider watching the whole debate. If, perhaps, you have less than three hours, I recommend you check out NDU member Sen. Mac Schneider's opening and closing remarks. He's smart. Warrior Smart. And we couldn't help but agree with him when he said, “Last Thursday, Mr. President, this bill didn’t exist. I literally have leftovers in my fridge that are older than this bill. To make a decision of this magnitude over the course of five working days is legislative malpractice.”

The amended bill passed in the Senate along mostly party lines, 32-15, and then went back to the House today, so that they could agree with the changes that were made. They did, 66-26. And so a bill that North Dakotans only first heard about one week ago today, a bill with possibly the greatest fiscal impact of anything else the Legislature has considered, is now on its way to the Governor to sign. Peachy.

We'll wrap up next week. What day? Not sure, but I'm confident we'll be done before the NBA playoffs are over. We'll wait. Like Warriors do. 


Week 15

Good Week, Bad Day

Oh, bother.

A big part of who I am and what I do, and how I do what I do, is I smile. A lot. Probably too much. But when you work on behalf the working men and women in our schools, universities and in public service, it's easy to be happy about doing that. And so I do so with a smile.

Today, my smile was threatened in a number of ways.

The morning started off nicely enough with Governor Dalrymple signing SB 2151 into law, which will provide the first-ever public funding for early childhood education in North Dakota -- more on that later. Then, we saw the leaders of the majority party in either chamber propose a restructuring of the oil tax, which could cost the state millions (perhaps billions) of dollars down the road.

Then, this afternoon, the House of Representatives passed SB 2349, a $108 million income tax cut that will make very little difference on the tax returns for North Dakota's middle class. Tax cuts are fine, I suppose, when you have more money than you know what to do with. But, when there doesn't seem to be enough money to adequately fund education and human services in our state, reducing revenue by $108 million is a bitter pill to swallow.

To make matters worse, my prodigious colleague who serves as the editor of these updates is out of state right now. So I'm kind of operating without a safety net. That said, I have a solid grasp of spelling and grammar, so I'm certain I'll do just fin.

So, yes, before today, we were actually having a very good week. I was smiling from ear to ear.

The passage of SB 2151 was a big win for kids in North Dakota, but it ran into strong opposition on the floor of the House of Representatives. While many saw this issue as as a no-brainer (the Fargo Forum characterized the opposition as "short-sighted and myopic"), others saw it as "another step from cradle to grave socialism". At North Dakota United, we saw this bill as a step in the right direction, and its passage will mean a great deal to some our state's 3- and 4-year-olds. As the brilliant Sam Seaborn once said, "Education is the 'silver bullet.' Education is everything." Increasing access to education can only be a good thing, and this law will do exactly that.

Earlier this week, the House and Senate both passed HB 1244, sponsored by NDU member Rep. Jessica Haak, which increased the amount of sick leave that a state employee can use to take care of a child. Last week, we told you about HB 1387, which changed this from two weeks to four weeks. HB 1244 increases the amount to six weeks. The debate on this bill in the House took a troubling turn when a representative from District 8 questioned why fathers would need to take leave to be with their children upon birth. He said this thing because he felt secure in knowing he was surrounded by like-minded human beings in his fellow House members, and nobody else would hear him. However, I happen to have access to a time machine of sorts. So, if you'd like to take a trip back in time to the floor of the House when he said that thing, feel free to check out the video of his speech here. Regardless of what he said, this was a big win for state employees and a big win for North Dakota families.

Today marked the 70th day of the legislative session. Some committees will be working tomorrow. Some will likely work late into the evenings next week. We have a long way to go on education funding, and after the passage SB 2349, less money available to work with. But what would really put a smile on my face is if you would chime in on the debate about per-student funding rates for our schools by visiting our website, checking out the chart we put together and using the contact information and handy-dandy link we put together to contact your legislators and impress upon them just how important our public education system in North Dakota is to all our students and all our citizens.

I leave you now, feeling a little bit better having had the chance to talk about the day we've had. But remember this: Whether it's 8 o'clock in the morning or 8 o'clock at night, and whether it takes us 75 days or 80, your lobby team will do everything we can to secure adequate funding for our schools, our public employees, and the work that you do.

Until then, feel free send coffee and/or donuts. 


Week 14

We're Watching Ed Funding in the Late Innings

Oh, man, the world is a beautiful place. Had you noticed? The sun is shining. The Minnesota Twins are currently beating the Chicago White Sox 2-0 in the bottom of the 5th inning. And, best of all, there are only 15 days left in the 2015 Legislative Session. Yahtzee!

Many legislators are still hoping to get done early so that they can save five of those days to use later in the year to be in a position to adjust in accordance with updated revenue forecasts. I think that’s adorable and increasingly unlikely, but I would love to be proven wrong.

We are really in the home stretch of the legislative session now. Many bills are in conference committees, where differences are worked out between the House and Senate versions of passed bills. It isn’t all that uncommon for one of the chambers to make dramatic adjustments to a bill in an effort to provide optimal bargaining power. This can be frustrating and is certainly a cause for concern to people invested in the outcome of said bill. That appears to be the case with education funding this session. The House made drastic cuts to both the higher education and the K-12 funding formulas. Stay tuned. We will do our best to keep you informed of changes as they happen, and we will be sure to let you know when we need you to contact your legislators. Not to yell at them or curse at them, mind you, but to politely ask them not to rip-off short-change our children and our future.

Yesterday, a big win was scored for state employees with families with the passage of HB 1387. Current law allows state and higher ed employees to use up to two weeks of accrued sick leave to care for a child upon birth. HB 1387 doubles that. It also increases the access to one’s sick leave to care for immediate family member from two weeks to 12 weeks. Obviously we supported the bill and then did a happy dance of sorts when it passed.

Lastly, remember last week when we asked you to contact your legislators regarding HB 1080, which would have reduced benefits for future public employees? Man alive, did you ever deliver on that one. In what our lobby team worried would be a close one, the Senate rejected this hostile legislation with a 33-14 vote. Votes like this don’t happen accidentally, and if you contacted your legislator to ask for a “red” vote, you did a real service to both current and future public employees.

So there you have it folks. 65 legislative days are in the books and the Twins are now leading 3-0 in the top of the 8th. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up in the 9th. For that matter, let’s hope the same for us.

(Editor's note -- The Twins just won, 6-0. Up-to-the-minute baseball scores: yet another member service you can expect from North Dakota United.)


Week 13

DON'T Cut Benefits for State Workers

Typically, the Legislature goes into session on Good Friday. But this year, they are so confident that they are going to be done on time that they decided against gaveling in today. So, no good bills are going get killed and no bad bills are going to get passed, and that means that today is a Great Friday. This e-mail represents the only work that I have to do today (Editor's note -- Subsequently, I'm working, too.) and, for some of you, reading this e-mail will be the only work you’ve done all day, so the shorter I make it, the less work there is for all of us. Keeping that in mind, I would like to update you about two bills, a threat and a missed opportunity.

The threat comes in the form of HB 1080, which was designed to help shore up NDPERS pension plan. In its original form, the bill called for a 1 percent increase in contributions from both the employee and the employer. Additionally, the bill reduced benefits for future hires. 

However, the legislative appetite for those increased contributions subsided as a result of lower oil prices and the subsequent decrease in revenue. This should have resulted in the demise of the bill, right? Wrong. 

They passed HB 1080 without the contribution increases, meaning it is solely a benefit reduction for future employees. The recruitment and retention of new employees is crucial to our state providing the high-quality public services that North Dakota residents expect. It is especially important for our current public employees because they are the ones who are so often asked to do more with less when agencies have inadequate staff to meet their needs. 

North Dakota United opposed the bill in this form, and the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee assigned a 4-3 “Do Not Pass” recommendation to the bill yesterday. It will likely be voted on by the Senate on Monday. Please contact your Senator and ask him or her to vote “No” on HB 1080.

The missed opportunity was obviously the House’s rejection of SB 2279, which would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation for purposes of employment or housing. North Dakota United supported this legislation. Discrimination is wrong, in any form. As Rep. Kathy Hawken told the Fargo Forum regarding this issue, “It will happen. It is a matter of when.” As an aside, The Forum also provided the public this handy-dandy illustrated guide to how every representative voted on the two parts of this bill. Just in case you're wondering who stands on what side of history.  

Sadly, for people who are looking for a place to live that is open and inclusive to people of the LGBTQ community, Thursday’s vote may be a signal that right now is not the time to choose North Dakota. We are grateful for those who do choose to stay and fight for a better future in our state, such as NDU member, Rep. Joshua Boschee. United in vision, we will fight with you, Rep. Boschee and all our legislators who voted for SB 2279, for this vision of a North Dakota that throws open its arms to embrace all people equally, instead of continually throwing hands up in the face of progress.

We are entering the home stretch now; the next two weeks will be filled with conference committee hearings where the details of various bills will get hammered out by small committees made up of members from the House and the Senate. Until then, enjoy the rest of this Great Friday.


Week 12

March Madness Hits the Capitol

We are almost done with the month of March, and that means that I have begun to care about college basketball. We've had blowouts, nail-biters, overtimes, and of course, upsets. I am absolutely certain of two things. First, nobody knows everything. Second, it is a very bad idea to accuse the Kentucky Wildcats of not playing hard. But, the world of college basketball isn't the only place experiencing madness this March. At the Legislature, we've had plenty of prognosticating, blowouts, nail-biters (HB 1254 failed by just two votes -- more on that in a minute), and upsets (HB 1251 passed the Senate last week). But at the Legislature, nobody wants to go into overtime (unlike last session, which went into the wee small hours of the morning on the 80th day).

The aforementioned defeat of HB 1254 represented a major victory for public education in our state. It sought to provide a tax deduction to parents whose children enrolled in private schools. It had a price tag of just $1.25 million, which in the grand scheme of things is not very large, prompting some legislators to say that it was not a particularly big deal. But make no mistake, passing HB 1254 would have been more than a *shift* in our state's approach to education, it would have *flipped the switch* on the question of public dollars going to non-public schools. It failed by just two votes in the state Senate on Thursday, and the integrity of education funding in our state has been maintained. Thank you for responding to our Action Alert on this bill, and sending so many messages to your senators. You made the difference.  

In other good news, the Senate unanimously passed HB 1403 today, 47-0. This bill seeks to allow state and higher education employees access to their sick leave to address the consequences of domestic violence. It already passed the House, 89-3, so it will either end up in a conference committee or on the Governor's desk soon.

On Monday, SB 2279 was heard by the House Human Services Committee. It seeks to ban discrimination for purposes of housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. We support this legislation because, as the Bismarck Tribune editorialized, discrimination is wrong in any form. The vote on SB 2279 will likely take place on Monday afternoon, which means that we all still have a weekend to ask our House members to vote Yes.

During March Madness, it's easy to get frustrated by how quickly our brackets go from perfect to busted. Upsets are common, but it is important to remember that the winner isn't decided in the early rounds of the tournament. The legislative session isn't so different. It's easy to get excited about early victories and all of the ridiculous ideas proposed as legislation. But, there's still plenty of session left. And so we need to show up. We need to work hard. We need to remain ever vigilant. And it isn't until the buzzer blows that we can determine whether this session was a win for educators, public employees, the people of North Dakota, and, of course, our children


Week 11

Bad News If You Like Terrible News

You've all had to build budgets for your family, I'm sure. You know the process. You start by "forecasting" an idea of how much money you are going to have. If you can't do that for yourself, then you can possibly turn to an expert to help you get a clearer vision.

When it comes to forecasting state revenue, North Dakota employs the services of Moody's Analytics. Their team of economists and number crunchers then put together their best estimate for how much money the state is going to collect in tax revenue over the next biennium. Then, because it's better to be safe than sorry, they scale it back. Then, because of North Dakota's "conservative nature," they scale it back some more.

On Wednesday, they reported this "revised" forecast to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The news wasn't great. For one thing, oil tax collections for the next biennium are projected to be $4 billion less than what was predicted in December. General Fund revenues are forecast at $419 million less. And yet, the response from a few legislators went a little like this: "How can you possibly paint such a rosy picture for our future? Can't you see the sky is falling!?!?"

The fact is that the vast majority of the oil tax dollars are not deposited in the General Fund. This means that even with a decrease in oil prices, a decrease in oil tax collections, and potential layoffs in the energy industry, the state is still positioned well to fund the priorities important to the professional lives of the members of North Dakota United. This is great news, unless, of course, you are a legislator who does not want to fund such priorities.

You see, there are some in the Legislature who view funding things such as K-12 education, higher education and state employee salaries as wasteful government spending. Much of the rest of the legislative session will be spent making the case that the funding priorities championed by North Dakota United are the same as those supported by the general public.

But, our priorities aren't just popular, they're also right. Education is the key to shared prosperity for everyone, and quality public services keep our communities running smoothly. The legislators who are accusing Moody's of being overly optimistic are now worried that the public has been told that the money exists to fund things at the levels that were recommended by the Governor. They are behaving like a husband who worries that if his spouse knew about the $50 bill in his wallet that it might be put toward replacing the carpeting in the basement rather than the titanium-head driver in his golf bag.

In better news, the State Senate rejected HB 1195 today, which would have allowed concealed weapons in schools. During her floor speech, NDU member and former math teacher Senator Erin Oban argued against the bill, saying that after listening to extensive testimony in the Education Committee there were still too many unanswered questions to pass this legislation. She concluded that it is “unfair and unwise” to pass this measure, saying that “this bill doesn’t provide the ‘better way,’ it provides the ‘cheapest way,’ and, perhaps, the riskiest one.”

Most times, your "call to action" in these e-mails are to contact your legislators and tell them how to vote. Just as often as we can, though, we should reach out to our legislators and thank them for a vote, or for the job that they're doing. With that in mind, why don't we thank the following senators for voting Nay on this bill, and for disarming a bad idea? Look for your voting district in the list below, and if you see it listed, then click on the link to send an e-mail of thanks to your senator:

Sen. Axness - District 16
Sen. Bekkedahl - District 1
Sen. Burckhard - District 5
Sen. Casper - District 27
Sen. Davison - District 41
Sen. Dotzenrod - District 26
Sen. Flakoll - District 44
Sen. Grabinger - District 12
Sen. Heckaman - District 23
Sen. Holmberg - District 17
Sen. Kilzer - District 47
Sen. Krebsbach - District 40
Sen.  Lee, G. - District 22
Sen. Lee, J. - District 13
Sen. Marcellais - District 9
Sen. Mathern - District 11
Sen. Murphy - District 20
Sen. Nelson - District 21
Sen. Oban - District 35
Sen. Poolman - District 7
Sen. Robinson - District 24
Sen. Schneider - District 42
Sen. Sinner - District 46
Sen. Triplett - District 18
Sen. Unruh - District 33
Sen. Wardner - District 37
Sen. Warner - District 4

Thank all of you, too, for spreading the word, reaching out to legislators, and letting them know your thoughts about not allowing guns into our schools. You are always there, through balanced budgets and balanced reasoning. Your efforts are appreciated. 


Week 10

Superstitious About Corporate Tax Cuts

Good evening, friends! It’s Friday, March 13, here in sunny North Dakota, and that means three things:

1) Don’t try crossing the street while blindfolded on the way to buying a lottery ticket today.

2) A significant number of you are reading these words while attending a fish fry.

3) It’s Legislative Update Time! (Editor's note -- Not to be confused with 2008’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time.)

Last week, I assured you that there would be no more slow weeks at the Capitol, and on Monday, Nick previewed what a busy week this would be for us. And it was.

Nick testified in support of SB 2031, the education-funding bill. During a joint hearing of the House Education Committee and a House Appropriations Committee, we were the only voice to ask that the funding cuts that were made to the bill be restored. The cuts could mean as much as $600,000 to a district like Bismarck, so it is crucial that the money be restored if the dollars are available. 

I testified against reductions in personal and corporate income tax rates in HB 1223 because there are better ways for the state to utilize $125 million in revenue (like buying South Dakota, to name one). If cuts need to be made to K-12 funding, higher education and state employee salaries, then perhaps now is not the time to be slashing taxes. If your state senator happens to serve on the Finance and Taxation Committee, contact them and ask them to buy South Dakota! ... I mean, ask them to give HB 1223 a Do Not Pass recommendation.

Fern testified against HB 1251, which seeks to scale back contract rights for teachers. It is, quite simply, a mean-spirited bill that is also completely unnecessary. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee.

We also testified in support of HB 1244, which would increase flexibility for parental leave, against HB 1254, which would provide income tax credits for parents with children in private school, against HCR 3044, which sought to study the Pay It Forward model for Higher Education, and against HB 1080, which would, in its current form, reduce benefits for future public employees.

Next week, we’ve got hearings for Guns in Schools, the NDPERS health insurance plan, and Early Childhood Education so look for an email from Nick on Monday morning telling you more about those. Until then, relax, enjoy the warm weather, like NDU on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and keep holding out for the medical community to finally come up with some sort of treatment for your rabid paraskevidekatriaphobia

Week 9

Cat in the Hat Returns

It was the first week back after crossover, and it was predictably mild. I mean, as long as you don't care about our state's corporate farming law, which had an eight-hour marathon hearing on Thursday. So, apparently, more than a few people care. 

As far as issues important to ND United members, we offered testimony in support of two bills. On Wednesday, we spoke in favor of HB 1257, sponsored by NDU member Rep. Kylie Oversen, which seeks to update our state's laws regarding equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. As you may have seen in our Crossover Report, it passed the House unanimously, so we are hopeful of its passage on the Senate side. In our testimony, we said:

"What message are we sending to our girls – and our boys – when we do not insist on equal pay for equal work?  What does it say about our values?  In our schools, we drive the point that we should treat each other with the same dignity and respect without regard to one’s race, creed, or gender.  In North Dakota, our practices and our laws must universally reflect our values and, right now, sadly, they do not."

We also spoke in support of SB 2258, sponsored by NDU member Sen. Erin Oban, which would increase flexibility in the use of sick leave for state employees and those in higher education as it relates to taking care of family members. This legislation will be especially beneficial for new parents, as state law today only guarantees new parents access to two weeks of sick leave to care for a newborn. If passed, public employees will be eligible to use up to 12 weeks of their sick leave to care for family members. While this bill passed the Senate unanimously, it received a somewhat cooler reception in the House. Senator Oban has issued a call to action for all of you to help by contacting the members of the House GVA Committee, and urging them to support this bill. Help her help you.

This seems like a good time for me to remind you that there's still time to REGISTER for the NDU Advocacy & Bargaining Conference on March 28th. I'll be leading a morning session and afternoon session on Political Advocacy - complete with Q&A with a panel of legislators. If you like reading these updates, you'll love sitting in a room full of your colleagues, learning and laughing about the role that politics plays in your professional lives. Remember, we laugh so we don't cry.

(Editor's note -- Also there are sessions on Higher Education, Public Employee, Student and ESP/PRSP Issues, Leadership Development, Member Benefits, four sessions on Collective Bargaining, and a session on Communications & PR, in case you want to learn best practices for transmitting messages, such as Stuart's, to your fellow members. Just saying.)

Despite the fact that the week was a little light on hearings and legislating, it was not lacking for levity. On Thursday, the Legislature celebrated ND United's "Read Across America" Day at the Capitol. Here’s a link to Majority Leader Al Carlson reading our proclamation (his speech begins around the 1:22 mark). Legislators celebrated literacy, wore Dr. Seuss hats, and posed for pictures with President Archuleta, NDU member Beth Romfo, and students from Will-Moore Elementary.

It's safe to say there won't be many (any?) more weeks like this at the Capitol this session, as next week already appears to be chock full of hearings. Obviously, this update has to end with a Dr. Seuss quote, and believe me it took some self-control to not compare a legislator or two to the Grinch, complete with theories about shoes being "too tight," heads not being "screwed on just right," or hearts being "two sizes too small." But that was just a little too easy and, further, I’m not one to criticize legislators. (Editor's note -- He's always criticizing legislators.)

Instead, let me just remind you that as NDU members, you should heed the wise words of the Mayor in "Horton Hears a Who," who said, "We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts! So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”