Legislative Report
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 2009

As I write this, the 2009 North Dakota Legislative Assembly is finishing its fifth week. By the time you read this, however, the legislature will be in its seventh week -- coming to its half-way point. A lot can happen during that time. Bills that have not even had a hearing in committee could be defeated or passed on the floor by that time. Bills can also experience significant revisions. What may be a good bill today may be a bad bill a week later. For these reasons, I hesitate to write about specific bills and instead offer some general observations about developments so far.

Stay Informed

If you want up-to-date information, go to the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site, especially the News and Updates page. (ndcatholic.org) Check it daily. New postings can come several times a day.

While there, check to see if there are any legislative action alerts. If you don’t check regularly, you might miss them. Already a few times this session action alerts had expired by the next day.

Make sure you are on the e-newsletter mailing list. Sign-up at the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site or send us an email at ndcatholic@btinet.net.

Wisely Moving Forward

Having passed a ban on abortion in the 2007 session that can go into effect when permitted by the courts, pro-life organizations and legislators are behind several bills to help reduce abortion until that time. A bill requiring that women have the opportunity to view an ultrasound of their unborn child before consenting to an abortion has already passed the state House of Representatives. Another bill would require abortion facilities to post a sign informing women that they cannot be forced to have an abortion. A bill to improve the informed consent statute would require that women be told that an abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being. Finally, legislators are considering a bill to improve the abortion alternatives program.

These type of constructive approaches work. According to a new study by Americans United for Life, North Dakota is among the top ten most pro-life states when it comes to laws protecting human life. According to the report: “North Dakota has taken the lead in two important and emerging areas: public funding for abortion alternatives and meaningful regulation of biotechnologies. North Dakota has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds to organizations promoting alternatives to abortion. North Dakota is also one of only a handful of states that bans human cloning and destructive embryo research.”

Tax and Finance

Legislators this year face many bills dealing with taxes and finances. In one respect, this is not unusual. However, the state budget surplus has resulted in a high number of bills providing tax credits, tax cuts, tax rebates, and the like. The North Dakota Catholic Conference has supported some of these proposals, such as measures to eliminate the sales tax on clothing and tax credits to help families with children in nonpublic schools.

Several principles should guide questions of taxation. First, taxation should be based on one’s ability to pay. Second, taxation should be fair and just in its treatment of the poor. Lastly, taxation must ultimately serve the human person, not the state or the economy. Visit the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site for more information on Catholic teaching and taxation.

Health Care

Governor Hoeven’s budget request includes much needed increases in funding for the state children’s health insurance program and Medicaid reimbursement. Five weeks in to the session, both of those proposals face challenges. This could drag out to the final weeks of the session. Stay tuned.