The work that goes into each legislative session doesn’t just start in January. After the midterm elections, our members took part in legislative forums across the state, allowing us to establish connections with local legislators in Bismarck, Mandan, Minot, Dickinson, Rolla, Grand Forks, Williston, Fargo, and West Fargo.
We learned more about where they were at on the issues, conveyed our concerns and priorities for public education and public service, and let them know that we would be paying attention to the decisions they were going to make that would impact our students, schools, and communities. Be on the lookout for upcoming forums to continue our conversations with legislators.
Defeated HB 1532 - Vouchers
House Bill 1532 would have given $10 million dollars in public money to private schools with
no strings attached. The bill was a dangerous threat to public schools, rural communities, and services that depend on public funding.
North Dakota United members sent over 57,000 emails to Senators and Representatives on this issue, which successfully flipped votes of legislators like Representative Anna Novak of Hazen, who cited a member email as the reason she switched to opposing HB 1532.
The final version of the bill narrowly passed out of the House by three votes and was sent to Governor Burgum, who vetoed HB 1532 after receiving almost 900 emails from ND United members urging him to do so. The House then sustained the veto and HB 1532 was defeated.
Defeated HB 1446 – Attack on Tenure at Dickinson State University and Bismarck State College
House Bill 1446 was written by Representative Lefor and the President of Dickinson State University to expand the power of University Presidents and threaten the job security of tenured professors at Dickinson State University and Bismarck State College.
If passed, the bill would have limited academic freedom and shared governance, and hurt higher education by making our state less attractive to quality professors looking to work in North Dakota.
After passing through the House on a 66 yea, 27 nay, 1 absent vote, the Senate came one vote short of passing the bill. Our members made their voices loud and clear on HB 1446, sending over 4,000 emails to legislators and submitting 20 testimonies opposing this legislation.
Passed HB 1494 and SB 2284 – School Lunch
House Bill 1494 prevents stigmatization or penalization of a student for having an unpaid lunch debt. Practices like withholding meals, using lunch tokens, placing a child’s name on a list of those with lunch debt, or limiting participation in school activities are no longer allowed. This bill easily passed through both chambers with only one nay vote each and is now a law.
With more states passing universal free school meals legislation, North Dakota legislators followed suit by introducing HB 1491. The bill began as a $90 million dollar appropriation to cover all costs of school lunches, making them free of charge to public school students. After a series of amendments in the House Education committee, HB 1491 was whittled down to a mere $6 million dollar bill to cover costs of meals for students whose parents or guardians make less than 200% of federal poverty, which equates to $60,000. After passing 80 yea, 11 nay, 3 absent in the House, the bill failed in the Senate on a 23-24 vote: one vote short of passing.
After an incredible outpouring of messages to legislators from North Dakota United members and partners like the AFL-CIO, the final language of HB 1491 was inserted as an amendment to SB 2284 by Representative Schreiber-Beck and seven other members of the House Education Committee. Senate Bill 2284, a broad K-12 education funding bill, then passed through both chambers and has been signed into law with the amendment for school meals included.
Defeated Multiple Parental Rights Bills
SB 2260 was one of several parental rights bills that was defeated in the legislature this session. SB 2260 would have created additional requirements for teachers, who already have a long list. In its original form, the bill would have allowed parents to sue teachers and school boards alike. With a teacher shortage and high rates of burn out, SB 2260 was the last thing that North Dakotan teachers needed. Thankfully, with NDU members’ messages in mind, SB 2260 was defeated.
Defeated SB 2360 – Book Bans
This bill would have required every library worker to read
every word in every book of a library’s collection, removing anything with so-called “obscene material”. The exorbitant fiscal note for this bill was determined by reviewing the number of additional positions our public libraries would need to hire to meet the expectations outlined in SB 2360. The bill also would have penalized any individual who displays “obscene material” in a library with a class B misdemeanor.
The Governor ultimately vetoed the bill after hearing from constituents, and the House ended up being the chamber to sustain the veto, as the Senate had voted to override. This would not have happened without our members speaking up and following the lead of the North Dakota Library Association.
Meanwhile, House Bill 1205 was signed by Governor Burgum. While this new law does not include a criminal penalty, it is poorly written, redundant legislation that puts Government in the way of local public library control and processes.
Attack on Pensions
This is an issue we have been tracking and working on continually, while the Legislature has been ignoring it since 2011. Although we fought hard, we learned throughout this session that we lost this fight on election day. Members of the legislature disregarded the facts and chose to vote ideologically, based on numbers from a think-tank instead of an actuarial report provided by NDPERS.
Because of this, HB 1040 passed and will close the defined benefit pension plan to new employees. There were some changes made at the last minute and we will keep monitoring the situation. We will continue to keep up the heat on them about their decision now and when the true cost becomes apparent during the next legislative session.
HB 1329 would have reduced the 30 year experience requirement for a lifetime teaching license to 20 years. While it passed easily in the House chamber, the Senate defeated the bill. Senators considered the lifetime teaching licensure a badge of honor, rather than a benefit to veteran teachers. They were also concerned about missing out on additional reviews that would occur over the 10-year period, reiterating their distrust in our public educators. Unfortunately, the legislature failed to provide this benefit to teachers.
Necessary Raises for Public Workers and Educators
This legislative session, funding bills went through at the very end. While there were some increases, we still fell short of where our state needs to be and what we asked for at 8% and 8%. After this past election, we knew that funding would be an uphill battle this session. K-12 funding ended with a 4% and 4% increase with an added 0.5% for special education funding.
Additionally, a section in SB 2013 requires that 70% of the increased funding must go towards non- administrative salaries. Public employees and higher education funding ended at 6% and 4%. These percentages are a win in our book; however, they are not up to par with our current economic environment. We must continue to pay close attention to the actions of our elected officials as we head into another election season.
No Stipends for Foreign Language Education
Further demonstrating the priorities of our legislature, SB 2354 – which would have expanded foreign language education in kindergarten through third grade – failed in the House in March. The bill would have appropriated a mere $25,000 to create a pilot program providing stipends to educators who teach a foreign language.
SB 2354 passed easily through the Senate on a 37-7 vote, but was defeated in the House after concerning discussion regarding foreign language education. One Representative claimed he did not want kids learning the “language of a third world country that nobody around here speaks”, while another stated that teaching North Dakota children a second language may allow them to leave North Dakota or the country. The bill was ultimately defeated on a 36-54-4 vote.