Legislators provide update at forum
Varied topics on public’s mind early in session
“It’s all about workforce, because of the needs we have in every career field,” Sen. Randy Burckhard told the crowd gathered at a legislative forum in Minot Saturday.
Legislators fielded questions on a variety of topics, including the child care and workforce development legislation wielding their way through the legislative process this session.
Legislators are aware that child care is part of the solution to the state’s workforce challenge, Burckhard said.
“I know they’re going to be laser-focused on what we can do to help that - so that if there’s two parents and one isn’t working because of child care, we can get them into the workforce,” he said.
Rep. Dan Ruby said the Commerce Department bill provides an increase in low-interest loans available for child-care facilities.
“It’s definitely something that’s being talked about, and there’s going to be either new programs or expansion of existing programs this session,” he said.
Burckhard, who serves on the state Workforce Development Council, said the goal is to create opportunities for all people to be employed.
“We are looking everywhere for how to get everybody employed in the state because we have many more jobs than we have people, and many other states have the same situation. So we are competing for that and we’re trying to come up with what are the potential solutions,” he said.
Senate Bill 2151 would create an office of immigration within the Bank of North Dakota to help promote North Dakota as a destination for immigrant and refugee families and provide legal assistance to immigrants regarding immigration requirements in an effort to address workforce shortages. A fee system on businesses hiring immigrants would pay for the program.
Ruby said he has heard from a number of constituents who oppose the bill.
“There’s definitely a groundswell of people who are upset with it,” he said. “It does seem problematic from my standpoint.”
The Senate Workforce Development Committee took testimony on the immigration bill last Friday.
Sen. Bob Paulson noted there are a number of bills related to parental rights and public schools. He is the sponsor of Senate Bill 2260, a comprehensive bill dealing with parental involvement in education and consent to medical treatment.
“Basically, it’s looking for more transparency for the parents – for the curriculum, for field trips, for speakers,”he said. “Anything that has to do with pronouns, gender identity, needs to be communicated to the parent, and there can’t be any hiding of what is going on in the school.”
A school choice bill, House Bill 1532, also has been introduced to provide private schools an amount between 15% and 30% of the state’s per-pupil payment to public schools. Private-school parents would have to request the funds through the school. The private school receiving the funds can use the money only to offset qualified education expenses the parent otherwise would be obligated to pay. A hearing is set for Wednesday before the House Education Committee.
Burckhard, a co-sponsor, said the state currently appropriates $10,300 per pupil for public education.
“We are really raising taxpayers when we fund public education. We want these kids to potentially become taxpayers, maybe even stay in the state,” he said, noting the same rationale exists for supporting private school students.
Ruby, who is a sponsor of a bill allowing deer baiting, said an existing ban on baiting aims to prevent deer from congregating and spreading Chronic Wasting Disease. However, deer naturally congregate, he said.
He also said there is concern about the definition of baiting and whether spilled grain or a strip of corn left while harvesting could be called baiting.
Other legislation, Senate Bill 1377, creates a new section of law allowing any member of a hunting party of 10 or fewer to kill the number of deer equal to the number of valid deer licenses held by the members of the party.
“Most people would say that it’s very commonly done,” Ruby said. “The Game and Fish is against this because they have their estimated percentage of success on every season, and that’s based on people not getting their deer. The chance that more deer would be shot to fill the licenses that they put out would be more likely.”
He said similar bills in the past have failed.
Paulson said his Senate Bill 2371 was introduced on behalf of individuals concerned about foreign ownership of property in North Dakota. It forbids a government listed by the United States as a foreign adversary from having any ownership interest in real property and bans county governments from entering into development agreements with a foreign adversary.
Co-sponsors on SB 2371 include Minot Reps. Jay Fisher, Scott Louser and Jeff Hoverson.
The House Agriculture Committee also will be taking testimony on Friday on three bills related to foreign investment in North Dakota.
The next legislative forum sponsored by the Minot Area Chamber EDC will be held this coming Saturday at 9 a.m. in the North Dakota State Fair Center, Norsk Room.