Legislative battles: Higher ed plan, professional licensing meet resistance

Jill Schramm/MDN Rep. Dan Ruby speaks at the legislative form Saturday.

A plan to create three boards to oversee higher education is getting some pushback from local legislators. Meanwhile, bills to address workforce issues by providing exemptions to professional licensing also have hit resistance.

At the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce’s Saturday legislative forum, Sen. Karen Krebsbach said she cannot support separate boards for North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota. Currently all 11 campuses are under one board.

“You can put any system in place, and unless you have the right people working it, you’re going to have problems,” Krebsbach said.

There’s talk of going back to having a larger board or having board members serve seven-year rather than four-year terms, she said.

“So I think there’ll be things done. I don’t really see the Legislature agreeing to having three separate boards, because I think it would cause confusion and a lot of unrest when it comes down to legislation,” Krebsbach said. “It’s a complete, complex system, but yet if we’re going to have a system in North Dakota for higher education, I believe that it should be controlled by one board.”

Jill Schramm/MDN Rep. Bob Paulson addresses a question during Saturday’s legislative forum.

The House Education Committee will hear the bill Tuesday.

Rep. Scott Louser said there is conversation about having two boards instead of three, but he still would oppose it.

“I think most of us would,” he said.

Sen. Randy Burckhard said his bills regarding exemptions to professional licensing ran into opposition from state licensing boards during the legislative hearing.

“So I’m in the room with about 60 people, and the room is made for about 30. I checked the roster – about 81 percent of the people are against me, and they don’t get it because they think 2 percent unemployment is pretty cool. But they all stand there and protect their turf while I try and spread the message that we’ve got workforce issues and we are going to have to do something to attract people to come here. Part of that solution is Air Force spouses that are very well educated. They find that there’s barriers to finding employment,” he said.

Jill Schramm/MDN Sen. Karen Krebsbach discusses legislation with an audience at a forum Saturday.

Burckhard said there may be a blending of his bill, SB 2127, which allows for a two-year exemption on professional licensing for military spouses, and a similar bill, SB 2306, introduced by Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks. He said it would be helpful to have military spouses who could come to Bismarck to testify.

Rep. Bob Paulson said phone calls and emails also are effective.

“It would be nice if military spouses could come down and testify. But if they can’t, a letter sent especially to individual members on a committee, from my perspective, has made a difference,” Paulson said. “Your voices do make a difference.”

Legislators also fielded questions about traffic fines and posting land against hunting.

SB 2304, which passed the Senate 34-11, would allow home rule cities or counties to set their own traffic fines rather than follow fines listed in state law, which are low relative to other states.

Rep. Dan Ruby, a co-sponsor, said the main issue is speeding fines as low as $5. A separate House bill to double the fines has a “do not pass” recommendation from committee.

The Senate bill does set limits on the amounts cities and counties can charge, and it is likely that entities will raise fines to the new limits if the bill becomes law, Ruby said. So there would be some consistency if all entities raised their fines. He said it is not designed to be a revenue producer, but higher fines would allow cities and counties to better recoup the costs of enforcing speed laws.

“For a law enforcement officer to stop, get out, risk his life on the road, write a ticket, have to file that – have all this stuff going – for five bucks, it’s wasting money,” Ruby said. “But the main thing is, are you gong to be less likely if it’s a $20 fine to watch your speed limit or if it’s $5?”

Burckhard reported a controversial bill regarding the posting of private land against hunting appears to be headed to a complete rewrite in committee. SB 2315 would eliminate North Dakota’s requirement that landowners post their land to prohibit hunting. That would place the burden of asking for permission on hunters.

Sen. David Hogue, a hunter and landowner, said his position has shifted from his initial opposition. States to the west have considerable public land for hunting, but North Dakota’s hunting largely takes place on private lands, he said. That puts the state in a different position when it comes to supporting hunting, he said.

“It’s not an unreasonable imposition on the landowner to say ‘post it’ because there are so many hunters in the state and it’s part of our culture,” he said.

The next legislative forum is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 9 a.m. in the North Dakota State Fair Center.


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