North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 9

Sisters and Brothers,

As the crossover recess was Monday and Tuesday, this was a short but somewhat eventful week.  Never a dull day at the capital! Terrifying! Disheartening! Soul sucking! Yes! But not dull. Like a train wreck in progress, the apocalypse that is 2017 North Dakota politics is a clothes-on-fire/no-water-in-sight kind of exciting.

Let’s start with on last week’s highlights.

HB 1197 deals with asbestos claims and requirements on their filing. This bill was originally far worse but was toned down greatly. As it stands now, it’s not overly harmful. In fact, it could help speed the claims process along. As a result, we watched this bill closely but did not oppose it.

Representative Guggisberg introduced HCR 3030 to study of the effects of income inequality on North Dakota citizens.  Well meaning and a good idea, this met with the results one would expect in the House IBL committee. Much of the discussion centered around the ignoble concept that income inequality is not harmful at all, and in fact, would be good for us all. In the end, this bill went down in flames to such an extent that at one point Representative Louser wanted to hog-house it into a study to see how great a flat tax would be for our economy.

Yeah! HCR 3030 started out as a study on the effects of the rich getting richer while the rest of us are on a slow glide to the bottom, and was nearly turned into a bill that would study the benefits of a tax that would harm poor people most. Thankfully reason prevailed.

Next up HCR 3032. In a time when our state is chronically short of skilled workers such as nurses, welders and more, this resolution would have studied ways to incentivize people, young and old, to choose careers that the state is in desperate need of. Representative Schneider did an excellent job fielding questions and different groups got up in support.

This bill only seems to be common sense, and I really had higher hopes of this passing. It was not to be, however. The more libertarian wing of the House IBL considered that this wasn’t the government’s job and put most of the responsibility for changing workforce on industry and labor. As the AFL-CIO, we strongly disagree. If it is not government’s job to create systems where both industry and Labor can flourish, I don’t know what their job is.  It went down 10 to 4.

SB- 2135 is a study on the North Dakota ballot initiative process and went through the House GVA committee last week. Now understand that this is only a study and as such will not change the process itself so we did not oppose it. Nevertheless, some of the topics discussed in the committee were concerning, and I think next session we may have a fight on our hands to restrict our citizen’s rights to bring initiatives to the ballot. Judging from the questions asked, there is interest in restricting the length of ballot-initiated bills, restricting the process or restricting any type of bill on the ballot that would require spending money. 

Really! Like most things wouldn’t require some expenditure. With little doubt, there is a frustration at the capital when the citizens vote in bills that the legislature has refused to pass, and there are several of our representatives that would like to limit our ability to override them.

But again, this is just a study and we already helped to balance out the make up of the study commission so we do not oppose SB-2135. We do oppose any future restriction on our initiative process, but we’ll take up that battle later.

Public employees are in the spotlight in the first week following Crossover with three PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) related bills introduced by House Majority Leader Representative Al Carlson. He took the opportunity offered by HB 1023, the budget for PERS, and jammed in his own 80+ page amendment. Worryingly, these 80+ pages look to change governance of PERS ditching the current board and replacing it with a new state agency, director appointed by the governor and advisory board. Scary stuff, indeed!

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee took no action on that bill or HB 1407 and HB 1408 which attempt to alter terms of contracts with health insurance providers. We’ll be keeping an eye on these.

Read more here: http://ndunited.org/news/legislative-update--march-3-2017/

Next week is a big week for all of us, and I’d like to list the bills that we will be watching.

HB-1405 would jump start north Dakota’s existing Commission of the Status of Women, and hopefully, encourage it to study the pay inequity between men and women. Personally, I hope that the commission will study ways to encourage more women to take nontraditional careers such as manufacturing or the Building Trades that pay far better than average. This is in the Senate IBL at 9:00 am, Monday.

Tuesday at 2:00, the Senate IBL also hears HB 1139 which already passed the house. This bill protects large franchises from liability by saying the franchisee employees are never employees of the franchisor.  This would limit the ability to sue franchisors for labor law violations even if it is their strict rules that caused the violations in the first place. It would also severely limit the ability to organize large franchises any faster than one restaurant at a time keeping workers wages low.

At 10 am on Thursday, the Prosperity Compact idea is being resurrected from the dead. I’ve written extensively about HB 1248 and how it would have allowed any larger landowner to form regulation free zones where any law above the state constitution and criminal law doesn’t apply. This bill died before Crossover, but miraculously this Walking Dead-like monstrosity is back as a study.

As its effect on safety, environment and labor laws may be severe, we will oppose any prosperity zone idea, and I encourage others to do so as well.

Lastly I’d like to talk about HCR 3033 changing the constitution to allow up to six state-owned casinos. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love our state owned bank and grain mill, and I would have little problem expanding into other state-owned enterprises. The question I do have is that if we are truly going to expand socialism in our state, why are we starting with casinos? These produce not exportable product, and therefore, are mostly going to take North Dakotan’s money.

Here’s my idea. If we are going to expand our state-owned institutions, why not on industries with exportable products? If we are truly going to embrace socialism, why don’t we start with industries that would produce real wealth for all North Dakotans? Why not state owned oil wells pumping our own oil. Why aren’t we putting in our own oil pipelines built to the finest quality and charging oil companies to use them? Why not state owned refineries and electrical generation not only providing for our own needs but selling at a profit to customers in other states?

If we are going to further alter our entire concept of capitalism, let’s start with industries that would benefit all of working people. Instead of directly competing with the enterprises of the brothers and sisters of our Tribal Nations, let’s pick an industry that would help a far wider swath of our citizens.

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