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Legislative Wrap-up
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
May 2019

The 66th regular session of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly ended last week. Here is a look at some of the session’s highlights, lowlights, and little-knowns, touching issues of concern to the Catholic Church.

In no particular order, the legislature:

  • Required abortionists to inform women that a drug abortion might be reversible.

  • Fell short of protecting free speech and religious rights of students at the state colleges.

  • Defeated several attempts to allow guns in churches and schools without the church or school’s permission.

  • Expanded and improved the state’s safe haven law to protect abandoned infants.

  • Put a hold on a plan to move female inmates from New England to Bismarck, move male inmates from Bismarck to buildings used by the state hospital in Jamestown, and build a new state hospital. Lawmakers immediately questioned the plan and administration officials complicated matters by dropping the plan for a new state hospital early in the session.

  • Repealed the state’s long-standing Sunday morning law that provided families and communities rest and recreation.

  • Passed several laws impacting local control, including prohibiting local minimum wage laws, gun buy-back programs, and bans on plastic bags. Lawmakers also removed some of the ability of local governments to zone for animal feeding operations.

  • Created a task force on the prevention of sexual abuse of children.

  • Directed the Human Trafficking Commission to develop a training program to help hotel operators identify human trafficking victims.

  • Gave nonpublic schools a rare victory by expanding the tax credit for contributions to nonpublic schools and universities.

  • Expanded Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and their unborn children.

  • Began implementation of the new constitutional ethics provisions in a manner that protects the contributors and members of churches and charities.

  • Passed a ban on dismemberment abortions that will go into effect when either the Eighth Circuit or the Supreme Court allows enforcement.

  • Made female genital mutilation reportable and punishable as child abuse.

  • Ensured that a caregiver cannot deny visitation by a close family member or clergy.

  • Urged Congress to pass a ban on abortions after twenty weeks gestation.

  • Rejected several attempts to expand gambling, including sports betting and the use of “historic horse racing” machines.

  • Defeated two bills to give special legal protection to “sexual orientation” and “transgender” expression.

  • Increased funding for the corporate guardianship program provided by Catholic Charities North Dakota. The service helps intellectually disabled individuals live and work in the community.

  • Refused to study school choice programs during the interim.

  • Defeated legislation to allow the use of deadly force to defend property and when its use is not necessary to protect life.

  • Failed to allow law enforcement to remove firearms from an individual determined to be endanger of harming self or others.

  • Restored funding for homeless shelter grants that was reduced in the 2017 session.

  • Increased funding for programs that support victims of human trafficking.

  • Added more funding than the Governor proposed for the alternatives to abortion program.

  • Approved several new initiatives and expanded others to help individuals with mental illnesses.

  • Increased funding for guardianship services provided through counties.

  • Revised the home education statute so that parents do not need to directly supervise at all times.

  • Rejected a proposal to remove almost all state oversight of education.

  • Soundly defeated a bill to mandate Bible education in all schools, including private schools.

  • Prevented government employers from automatically refusing an applicant who has a criminal record.

  • Required life insurers to disclose if a policy has a waiting period that would not cover newborns.

  • Rejected an effort by police and firefighters to obtain collective bargaining rights.

  • Turned down a resolution that sought to clarify that the time for adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment has passed.

  • Defeated legislation mandating that health insurance polices cover a variety of “infertility treatments,” some of which the church considers unethical.

  • Allowed public and nonpublic schools to have armed first responders in limited circumstances.

  • Expanded the farm ownership law to allow second cousins to have ownership in a family farm.

  • Transferred the Tompkins Rehabilitation program and the its building from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Corrections. The successful program treats soon-to-be-released inmates with substance abuse issues. The state hospital will retain some beds at another location.

  • Allowed a court to terminate the parental rights of someone convicted of a rape that resulted in the child’s conception.

  • Passed a major overhaul in the delivery of social services at the local level, moving from a county-based system to human service zones.