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We need a special session

Ross Keys, Bismarck

In late April, a number of organizations in North Dakota joined together to call upon our state’s elected leaders to address a variety of needs resulting from the impacts of Covid-19. These proposals, known as WE STAND Together, recommend policies in core issue areas to support working families.

The organizations involved include North Dakota United, ND AFL-CIO, ND Native Vote, ND Farmers Union, ACLU of North Dakota, High Plains Fair Housing, ND Human Rights Coalition, ND Women’s Network, Dakota Resource Council, FM Coalition to End Homelessness, Prairie Action ND, and the North Dakota Voices Network.

Since the rollout of that plan, the Women’s Network and AFL-CIO have released a more thorough review of a paid family leave proposal, which was an original component of WE STAND Together. In addition, several legislators and hunger experts released an outline on how to improve our state’s food distribution network to help thousands of our neighbors who are unable to simply get enough food to eat. And, most recently, the Democratic-NPL Party has called for a Special Session of the state legislature to more thoroughly debate how to best use $1.25 billion in federal funds coming into North Dakota to help address these needs.

Only a handful of this state’s elected leaders have been involved in deciding how to spend most of this funding and, should Washington authorize additional funds, may decide how to spend hundreds of millions more. The sheer amount of funding involved seems to support an argument for bringing all North Dakota legislators together to debate these matters, but more importantly, every once in a while situations arise that require us to listen to more voices rather than fewer. This is one of those times.

Covid is spiking again in 40 states and will continue to impact our economy for the foreseeable future. Our farm and ranch families are under tremendous strain across the state as a result of low commodity prices and lost export markets; this strain is becoming worse as we are facing serious weather conditions all across North Dakota. The recent oil crash has impacted thousands of working families.

If a special session is called, our elected leaders won’t be able to solve all these issues in four days, but all corners of our state will be represented and working to address these crises together. Discussions about bailing out the oil industry or funding education will be held. Band-aid options vs. long term investment will be debated. Streamlining unemployment insurance, teacher safety and state employee protections can be addressed. Our legislators can at least begin deliberations on other issues that will be more fully examined at what will likely be a difficult and challenging 2021 General Session.

Bring all the issues that need to be discussed to the table and bring our legislators together, safely, so we all have a voice at the table.

It’s how democracy works.

Keys is executive director of North Dakota Voices Network.

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