North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 15

Sisters and brothers,

Every time I feel as if our work at the legislature is winding down, another conference committee pops up with something of interest for Union members...  usually bad. Honestly, there is always something.

But… the end is near. The legislature is allowed only 80 days every two years and Monday will be day 69, so the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight. I’m just hoping that it’s not a runaway train driven by Carlson and company aiming to strip away more money from higher education or harm working people in some way. The legislature can also play that little game where they don’t gavel in on the floor sessions and then don’t have to count that day. They just did that last week and certainly will do it again in the future. So the actual end date is anyone’s guess.

Onto the matter at hand! This week the medical marijuana bill was sent to the governor’s desk and parking meters were sent to defeat, a key education bill was signed and the potential for guns in schools and public buildings popped up in a late amendment. All of that while we wait some agency budgets to be approved and fight for a spot on the initiated and referred measure committee. Whew!

Our brothers and sisters at North Dakota United are battling fiercely to protect as much of the public budgets as they can, but it’s an uphill fight. Remember that our legislature has lowered corporate and income taxes nearly every year for the last decade.  Making the situation worse, they also gave massive tax breaks to out-of-state oil companies by cutting the oil extraction tax. Since they are now unwilling to raise any state taxes whatsoever, our public employees are facing huge cuts in their budgets, and the rest of us re looking at vast reductions to all the essential services they do.

And don’t be surprised when your property taxes skyrocket as many of these important services will then be done by the counties. When this happens, I hope that you’ll know who to blame.

We can all read more about NDU’s fights this week here. I hope everyone understands that they are doing a magnificent job in the face of terrible odds.

In better news, SB-2135 finally found some resolution at the end of this week. This is the “commission a study to fix the ballot initiative system” bill that I have been leery of from the beginning. My fears increased after listening to the house committee discuss what they felt was wrong with the people’s right to initiate laws and put them on the ballot. What really made me nervous, however, was Representative Ben Koppelman’s and Chris Olsen’s constant push to pack the commission with conservative legislators and citizens and take away any representatives of working people or Native Americans.

The Senate has been reasonable on this but Koppelman and Olson have not. They keep claiming that they want to balance the commission, but “balance” to them means to pack it with a majority of people who share their far-right and anti-worker ideology. That’s like balancing a teeter-totter by packing three fat bastards like myself on one end and two third graders on the other. Oh yeah, balanced to perfection!

At the end of this last week, they finally realized that if they wanted this bill to go through at all, they would have to give a little… and give they did… as little as possible. Labor is still denied an appointed spot, but they reluctantly agreed to the following language in the section where seven people are appointed by the governor, “One of the seven must be a member of an association that represents employees and their interests.”

That’s as close to the word “Union” as they were willing to go. Even saying the word Union seems to be painful for some people, but… This is still a victory. This version passed the Senate but several members were reluctant to mess with the ballot initiative process at all, and voted “no”.  My thanks to Senators Poolman, Hogue and Marcellais for standing by us.

Still uncertain is SB—2014, which has an amendment that strips out profit-sharing for our Union grain millers at the State Mill. This bill is still under discussion in the conference committee. The majority of legislators do seem to believe that profit sharing has a legitimate place, but we are continuing to keep our eye on this. I have had several conversations with committee members and others on this issue, but it’s not over. The next conference committee hearing is on Monday so I’ll be there to see where it goes.

And that’s it for the week. As citizens of this state, we are going to be left holding more and more of the bag as needed services are cut and public employees are facing layoffs. We will get medical marijuana but be forced to pay more property taxes. Oil companies still get lowered tax rates, but the state’s higher education budgets get cut by 20 to 25%. And through it all, workers get denied the respect and credit that they deserve.

After going through this session, I am more committed than ever to the idea that to change the attitudes of the legislature, we need to change out many of the individual legislators. In this next election, we will be working hard to find pro-worker candidates, candidates who understand that supporting the working people of North Dakota will benefit the entire state.

We will certainly be calling on many of you to help in this fight! 

Waylon Hedegaard
President/Secretary Treasurer
North Dakota AFL-CIO
(701) 595-3334