Legislative Session: Week Five
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 2007

The North Dakota legislature is in its fifth week. Here is a glimpse of what is happening:

Health Care

The dignity of the human person and the sanctity of all human life means that everyone should have basic health coverage. Unfortunately, our economic and political systems leave people without the ability to access or afford health care. Society, including the government, has a moral obligation to ensure that people in need receive basic health care services.

For decades, Medicaid has been the primary method of providing health care to the poor in this country. Although not perfect, the program, by-and-large, works. To keep working, however, the program must ensure the availability of health care and adequately reimburse their services. Unfortunately, North Dakota is failing in that regard.

A study commissioned by the North Dakota Legislature concluded that the state’s reimbursement rate is both inadequate and much lower than surrounding states. Hopefully, the North Dakota legislature will give hospitals and other health care providers the boost in reimbursements needed to sustain the state's commitment to the poor and needy.

While it looks at Medicaid reimbursement rates, the legislature will also look at helping children without any health insurance coverage. An estimated 12,000 children in the state lack basic health coverage, mostly because their parents cannot afford it, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid or the state's children's health insurance program. Legislators introduced five bills to expand coverage for children. A combination of political will to do something about the problem and the state's healthy budget increases the likelihood that the state will expand health insurance coverage for these needy children.


The North Dakota House passed a prohibition on abortions, except when they are necessary to save the life of the mother. The law would not immediately go into effect. It would only become effective when the attorney general of North Dakota certifies that as a result of new decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is reasonably probable that this law would be upheld as constitutional. In the alternative, a future legislative assembly could remove the “trigger,” if it decided that the time was right, legally or strategically, for the law to go into effect.

The bill, House Bill 1466, now moves to the state senate.

Alternatives to Abortion

A program long supported by the state’s bishops that provides financial assistance to organizations that provide pro-life alternatives to abortion is getting a positive reception from the legislature. Senate Bill 2312 reauthorizes a program approved by the last legislative assembly. The Senate passed the bill with a 43 to 1 vote. The bill now moves to the House.

Smoking, Feedlots, Zoning, and Taxes -- Issues About Subsidiarity

Several bills introduced this session limit the powers of local governments. The issues being addressed include land-use zoning, smoking ordinances, sales taxes, and health regulations. How much power should a local government have? Or, to put it another way, how much local control should the state take away?

The Catholic Church's teaching on subsidiarity can offer guidance, if not necessarily answers, to these questions. According to the principle of subsidiarity, "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." (
Catechism, No. 1883.) The Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church has more information on subsidiarity and its importance to the common good. The relevant sections can be accessed through the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site at ndcatholic.org.

Find out How Your Legislators Voted – and More

Finding out how your legislator voted is not always an easy task. The North Dakota Catholic Conference (ndcatholic.org) web site now has a step-by-step guide to help you through the process. The web site also has regular updates on happenings at the legislature, testimonies, a directory of legislators, and information about the North Dakota Legislative Assembly.