Before I depart for a month, leaving the North Dakota Legislature to its own devices, I’m going to comment on some of the strange goings-on over at the Capitol. I just can’t help myself. The best adjective to describe this session of the Legislature is weird. Maybe even awful. Much of the weirdness comes in the form of concurrent resolutions.
For those of you not familiar with the legislative process, concurrent resolutions, as opposed to bills, are reserved for things that will not become part of the North Dakota Century Code if they are passed and signed by the governor. They are reserved for things like sending constitutional amendments to the voters, setting up special committees or conducting studies and for special designations that make legislators popular with the folks back home.
They’re called concurrent resolutions because they are measures introduced in one house and agreed to — or concurred with — by the other house, and they generally have sponsors from both houses.
The resolution I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, SCR 4001, the one about the constitutional amendments voted on and approved by the people, and then needing legislative approval, gets the number 4001 because it was the very first resolution introduced this session. Its prime sponsor was Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, and I’m sad to say, one of my favorite legislators, Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck. I’m not sure what Mike was thinking the day he agreed to sponsor that, but I might need to introduce him to Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Bismarck, and Sen Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, the sponsors of the bill to decriminalize marijuana, which I also wrote about two weeks ago, and get him something to calm him down and clear his head. Mike, we need to talk.
As of today, there are 12 Senate concurrent resolutions and 42 House concurrent resolutions. What’s troubling is, of the 54, 12 of them are proposed constitutional amendments. Not all of them will pass, but if they did, that would be 12 changes to our constitution to vote on in 2020.
The most controversial one, in my mind, will be House Concurrent Resolution 3016, aiming to take the names of the colleges out of the constitution, leaving the possibility of closing the universities at Dickinson, Mayville, Valley City, Minot, Bottineau and Wahpeton up to the whims of the Legislature. That reminded me of a story from more than 30 years ago, but which I remember like it was yesterday.
In January 1985, in the opening week of the Legislative session, newly elected Gov. George Sinner called a meeting in the governor’s conference room of a few of his trusted advisors and Democratic-NPL Legislative leaders to talk about legislative strategy and about the general direction of Sinner’s first term in the governor’s office. Among the attendees were Democratic-NPL State chairman George Gaukler, from Valley City, and newly elected Democratic-NPL House Minority Leader Rep. Charles Mertens, from Devils Lake.
At one point during the meeting, Sinner said “We might have to look at closing some colleges,” sending a shiver through the room. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mertens virtually leapt up from the table and headed for the governor. I leaned over to Gaukler and said, “Looks like Charlie’s not gonna waste any time having a talk with the governor about his college.” Gaukler turned to me and said, “I’m next.”
Well, Sinner didn’t close any colleges, but it’s going to get talked about for the next month or so, until the Legislature eventually kills the resolution, which I think it will. The resolution has 12 sponsors, none of which, not surprisingly, are from Wahpeton, Dickinson, Valley City, Mayville, Minot or Bottineau. We’ll see how good the legislators from those towns are at lining up opposition to the resolution. They’ve been able to do it in the past.
Minot faces another risk. One of the city’s own legislators introduced a resolution calling for a study to be done to see if the state should just drop Minot State from its higher education system and let the university become a private school if it wants to stay in business. Huh? Keep an eye on Minot Rep. Scott Louser’s re-election race in 2021.
The Legislature is not done tinkering with initiative and referral after SCR 4001 either. There are a couple of really bad (stupid) proposed changes to the constitution in HCR 3007 and HCR 3010. One is a cumbersome process of submitting initiated measures to the Legislature BEFORE they go on the ballot, and the other says that constitutional changes proposed by petition must be approved by 60 percent of the voters, instead of a simple majority, which the law says now. But the 60 percent threshold only applies to constitutional measures put on the ballot by petition — not to measures put on the ballot by the Legislature, which will only require a majority. How arrogant is that?
And you want the epitome of arrogance? Try this on for size, HCR 3028, introduced by the Republican legislative leaders:
WHEREAS, it is the legislative responsibility to review existing laws to determine whether legislative action is necessary or desirable; and
WHEREAS, in November 2018, the electors approved article XIV of the Constitution of North Dakota establishing a state ethics commission and setting forth other ethics-related requirements; and
WHEREAS, the provisions of the new article impact the constitutional rights of North Dakota residents; (my emphasis)
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NORTH DAKOTA, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN: That the Legislative Management consider studying article XIV of the Constitution of North Dakota, relating to transparency of funding sources, lobbyists, conflicts of interest, and the establishment of an ethics commission; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Legislative Management report its findings and recommendations, together with any legislation required to implement the recommendations, to the Sixty-seventh Legislative Assembly.
Check out the third WHEREAS. They say the new article of the Constitution, approved by the voters of North Dakota, may be unconstitutional. Excuse me? The new article IS the Constitution. So how can the Constitution be unconstitutional?
I swear, I have never seen such a bunch of arrogant pricks gathered in one place in all my life.
OK, there are some good resolutions, too. My favorite: designating the fourth Saturday of July as the “National Day of the Cowboy.” It’s a real hoot. Did you know that 32 million people go to a rodeo every year? That’s in there. The whole thing is worth reading, here.
SCR 4006 designates Feb. 25, 2019, as Bank of North Dakota Day in North Dakota. Hooray for the Nonpartisan League!
The Riding While Drunk bill is interesting. It makes riding bicycles and horse while drunk legal. That bill has already passed the house on a 91-1 vote.
Another one I like is the “Sucker Bill.” Who knew this: Right now, if you buy some sucker minnows over in East Grand Forks, Minn., to go catfishing on the Red River, but your boat is sitting at a boat ramp in Grand Forks, waiting for you, you can’t bring those suckers across the bridge. Fishing with sucker minnows is illegal in North Dakota, except on the Red River, because they are legal in Minnesota. We’ve got that law to keep those Minnesota suckers out of our fishing waters. Now, because of a quirk in our law, anglers can legally buy suckers in Minnesota and use those suckers on the Red River but they cannot bring those suckers across a bridge from Minnesota, launch their boat from North Dakota and legally fish the exact same waters as if they had launched from Minnesota. SB 2183 makes it legal to bring suckers across the bridge. Good grief.
There’s HB 1375, which says that candidates for mayor or city commissioner will have a party affiliation attached to their name. No one’s talking about it, but it looks to me like it also opens the door for county candidates to be affiliated with a party. I hope so because I don’t have any strong feelings about what party my city commissioners belong to, but I’d really like to know if my sheriff is a Democrat or Republican. THAT would be useful information. If I know my sheriff’s idol is Buford T. Pusser or Joe Arpaio, I’m gonna be darned careful, because I’m pretty much known as a Democrat and there’s this thing called profiling …
Here’s one I don’t understand. HCR 3039 was introduced by a new Legislator from Minot named Jeff Hoverson — he’s the conservative evangelical minister who knocked off longtime moderate legislator (and my friend) Andrew Maragos last year and part of the crop of new ultraconservative Legislators that scare me — and I just can’t get the connection between the WHEREAS and the THEREFORE:
WHEREAS, Section 3 of Article VIII of the Constitution of North Dakota encourages school instruction in areas that emphasize the importance of truthfulness, temperance, purity, public spirit, and respect for honest labor;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NORTH DAKOTA, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN: That the state of North Dakota may not directly or indirectly levy a tax on the assessed value of real or personal property to pay for its legal obligations, including the funding of public schools in the state, in accordance with the Constitution of North Dakota.
Hoverson campaigned on the platform of cutting property taxes, but this is just goofy. What do those two things have to do with each other? Can anyone figure this out?
Last, and least, is SB 2136, Sen. Oley Larsen’s bill to require teaching of the Bible in public schools. Now, never mind that that same, bothersome, state Constitution that Oley’s fellow Minot Legislator Hoverson is fond of says, “The legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools which shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota and free from sectarian control.”
Don’t worry, Oley’s bill is gone. The Senate killed it already on a vote of 5-42. Five conservative senators voted for it. Forty-two pushed their red button with their heads down under their desks in embarrassment, wishing it had never been introduced.
In spite of all the hot air coming from the Capitol building, it is pretty cold outside. As I finish writing this morning the Weather Service says it is 32 degrees BELOW zero outside in Bismarck. Lillian and I have the Highlander Hybrid full of camping gear, and we’re headed west this afternoon, hoping that by Sunday we might be camping in Channel Islands National Park, on the beach, on an island off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. The temperature there today is going to be 68 degrees ABOVE zero. That is a 100 degree difference between here and there. Good grief! How can that be possible? We live in an amazing country. I hope my body can adjust. I’ll report in from the beach.