A Look at Legislative Session
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 2013

As I write this column North Dakota senators have four more days during which to file bills and the deadline for House members has passed. We now have a pretty good picture of what the Legislative Assembly will consider.

Pro-life legislators have introduced two abortion-related bills. HB 1305 prohibits abortions for sex-selection and genetic abnormalities. HB 1456 would ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is discernible. Sex-selection bans have passed in other states. The genetic abnormality and fetal heartbeat bans would be new for the country.

Health care coverage for the poor could be improved if the legislature approves the Governor’s request to expand Medicaid coverage with federal dollars. A separate bill, however, designed to force a vote on that issue alone, has also been introduced. Meanwhile, providers of other social services are struggling to keep pace with the costs of providing care in the oil region. These and related issues are addressed in the Human Services appropriation bill, HB 1012.

House Bill 1385 could potentially remove assistance to poor children and families by mandating drug testing for recipients of temporary assistance for needy families and supplemental nutrition assistance. If the test is positive, the person would become ineligible. Although no one thinks that using illegal drugs is a good idea, stigmatizing the poor by forcing them to undergo testing not required for everyone else while risking the health of their children is not the best solution.

Parents of children in nonpublic schools would get financial relief under House Bill 1466. The North Dakota Catholic Conference is still reviewing the bill. Meanwhile, Senate Concurrent Resolution 4003 recognizes School Choice Week. Several bills would indirectly impact Catholic schools by changing the required number of school hours, needed courses, and the school year.

Legislators have introduced several bills that would allow concealed weapons in churches and schools. Present law prohibits guns in these buildings. The North Dakota Catholic Conference will follow the bills to ensure that the decision to allow firearms rests with the churches and schools.

Senate Bill 2252 purports to fill a need in the state by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In fact, it provides special legal protection to sexual acts outside of marriage. The Catholic Church affirms the God-given dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination. The unique legal status granted by the bill’s definition of sexual orientation, however, appears to encompass not only homosexual inclinations, but also other sexual activities outside of marriage.

Two bills seek to weaken the state’s Sunday morning closing law. The purpose of the existing law is to preserve the common good by ensuring that society is not overtaken by work and profit. It serves the common good by ensuring that some part of our life is reserved for essential time for family, worship, and rest.

To stay informed about these and many other bills of concern to the Catholic Church go to ndcatholic.org and sign up for the conference’s e-newsletter.