Few winners, many losers at the Legislature

Submitted Photo The State Capitol building in Bismarck is seen here.

The 2017 legislative session didn’t produce many winners. There wasn’t enough money for that. There were losers, however. Among them:

Native Americans

The session began without an address from one of the state’s tribal leaders and ended with suspension of the Tribal State Relations Committee, accomplished in a conference committee on the last day of the session. In between lawmakers refused to allow display of tribal flags in the Capitol’s Memorial Hall and considered a bill to allow state-owned casinos that would compete with Indian gaming sites. The bill was rejected.

Some lawmakers expressed frustration that the relations committee has not attracted consistent participation from Native American leaders. In its place, they created a two-year committee composed of the state officials, including the governor, tax commissioner, Indian affairs commissioner and legislative leaders. That will examine issues that arise between the tribes and state government, starting with taxation. Tribal leaders will be invited to the meetings, which are intended to be advisory. This arrangement will last for two years, at which time the relationship committee would be reconstituted.

Sanford Health

Lawmakers forced renegotiation of a lease between North Dakota State University and the health care company, and they gave notice that the state will end its contract with Sanford’s insurance company.

The first arose when NDSU bought the Sanford nursing program in Bismarck, and then leased space from Sanford to operate it – all without legislative approval. This brought one of the most dramatic moments of the session, when Al Carlson and other Republican leaders publicly rebuked NDSU President Dean Bresciani and demanded the lease be renegotiated. That saved the state $1.1 million.

Center for Tobacco Control and Prevention

The center was created by an initiated measure passed in 2009, and undertook a program of advertising and making grants to entities that work to control and prevent tobacco use in the state. Lawmakers ended the center and redirected money from the state’s share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement to the state Health Department.

It’s the first time in the state’s history that an initiated measure has been overturned by the Legislature. The action became possible because seven years had passed since voters approved the measure. Before that deadline, repeal would have required a two-thirds vote in each house.

Higher education

Budgets were cut at each of the state’s 11 state colleges and universities, without objection from the State Board of Higher Education.

Two facets of the system are on the list for study during the legislative interim, administration of the five two-year schools, and nursing education, now offered at nine of the campuses.

Public information

Lawmakers removed provisions in state law that required publishing notices in the state’s papers. Some provisions for open meetings were also rolled back. The most important withholds the names of applicants for state jobs except for three finalists. This is aimed at protecting the identity of people who seek public jobs in the state, whether they be with local or state government entities or colleges and universities.

Representatives of the state’s newspapers objected that the bill is so broad that it creates opportunities for public bodies to discuss other business behind closed doors.