North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 12

Brothers and sisters,

We just passed legislative week one million and three or thereabouts, and we’re still here. Though this session seems like it has been going for a while, the end is in sight because Monday will be the 55th day of the session out of a maximum of 80. Though there are serious budget fights still going on and more to come, there is also a light at the end of the tunnel… We just hoping it’s not an oncoming train.

In good news, this week saw the final death of the prosperity compact idea. This is where North Dakota would allow small, regulation-free enclaves where state laws would not apply and added the idea that they could eventually expand to disallow federal rules and laws too. After shooting down HB 1248 which would have created these prosperity zones/white supremacist enclaves directly, the idea was resurrected in HCR-3028, which demanded a study of these prosperity zones. Like Michael Myers , Jason or Freddy, this idea has simply refused to die gracefully.

However, after passing the house, this resolution was finally stabbed through the heart by the senate for being 5 days past the deadline. It is seems now truly dead. Don’t rest too easily and keep your stakes sharp, however, because there will certainly be a prosperity zone sequel in a future session down the line.

A surprising blow this week came with changes to HB-2135, a bill to study how to change our ballot initiative process. Originally, this bill set up a study commission that was very one sided, but many people prodded and pushed and got a more balanced group to study this issue. More balanced legislators and a representative from NDU was included along with one from the tribal nations. Though not perfect, we were happy enough at the end. We felt that this would be a more balanced commission and would study the issue impartially.

We thought that this version of the commission would sail through the house without a problem. Yes. We should have known better! This week, the house committee on Government and Veteran’s Affairs changed the entire make up of the commission taking out both Labor and the tribes and giving the governor full power to appoint what people he wants to the study commission.

Understand that there are a great many legislators who think that the people’s power to vote on issues directly is too great, and they have hinted in the hearings that they would love to trim our ballot initiative power. Contrary to this, it is our position that North Dakota’s ballot initiative system is the best in the nation and should not change at all.

Needless to say, we stand against these changes and may be asking for help in the future to change this back to a commission that at least had a representative from the working people on it. The citizen’s power to initiate bills should never be infringed upon.

In better news, aiming to give our teachers the best possible tools to do their critical job, the House Education Committee gave a Do Pass recommendation to SB-2186 the education innovation bill. This excellent bill would encourage local school districts to provide flexibility for our teachers by changing the traditional classroom experience and increasing innovation in the classroom.

In addition, HB-1303, the public employees hiring freeze, was rejected. This shortsighted bill would have hampered state agencies in coping with many events including replacing retiring employees and working on new tasks voted on by the legislature.

And lastly, Representative Carlson’s socialist casinos bill was shot down in a flaming mess this week. If we are going to expand our state-owned enterprises beyond our mill and bank, we should really try an enterprise that actually benefits North Dakotans or create a product that we can export to help our finances. State owned casinos seem a poor choice.

And then there is the national areana… Where to start on this! Unbelievably, the mess becomes greater every week. Though Trumpcare got shot down by Trump’s own party this week, that fight is not over. Left like a flaming bag of turds on America’s doorstep, Trumpcare left too many working people uninsured, 24 million of them to be exact. This would have had a drastic effect on not only the health of our citizens but also on our state’s ability to maintain many rural hospitals at all. Understand, that most of the hospitals that serve rural areas are barely scraping by as is, and the reduction in payments from people no longer covered would certainly push many of them into closure.

In another whirlwind of destruction, President Trump’s budget arrived with a thud. It cuts nearly every agency and program that we as working people rely on to protect us. Workers don’t have nearly enough protections as it is, and we can ill afford these massive cuts to worker’s right. It is absolutely certain that this will be a fight for the near future. If you have not done so, please take the time to contact your representatives and senators at the link below to tell that that working people can’t take these drastic budget cuts.

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/presidents-budget-hurts-working-north-dakota

Finally, there is the Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch is the worst judge to be nominated to this life time position in years. He’s not just a conservative. He is a corporatist who consistently sides with the companies over the workers in cases brought before him. For instance, when a company was found guilty of negligence in an OSHA case, he dissented from the rest of the court and stood with the company. An employee was electrocuted on the job by some high voltage power lines he was working near. The company was found negligent for not training their employees in the electrical hazards of the job. The rest of the court agreed, but Gorsuch dissented and argued that holding the company liable for the safety of their employee was overreach!!! Overreach!! In a complete reversal of tradition and law, companies in Gorsuch’s world are not responsible for their workers safety! The disastrous effect this could have on the working world is hard to understate.

And there is more. In the case of the frozen trucker, Gorsuch again voted against the rest of the court. The trucker in this case was stranded along the side of the road with frozen brakes. His company demanded he stay with the load in freezing weather in a vehicle without a working heater. Cold and shivering with numb feet and trouble breathing, after 3 hours the trucker decided it was no longer safe and left the trailer to go get assistance.

In a typically anti-worker decision, he was fired a week later for leaving his cargo. The rest of the court ruled that this was unfair and the trucker got his job back, but Gorsuch argued that the company had every right to fire this employee for refusing to risk his life for their property. 

These decisions are against everything that working people have fought for in the last century, and they indicate that this man would be terrible for working people across this nation.  Gorsuch is all about putting profits over people, and he needs to be stopped.

This week may be over, but there is a great deal left to do, and I will need everyone’s help.

In solidarity,

Waylon Hedegaard