Session Wrap-Up
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
May 5, 2005

The North Dakota Catholic Conference tracked approximately 200 bills during the recent session of the state legislature. Here are some highlights:

In what could become the most positive step toward building a culture of life – which many feel must politically occur before Roe will be overturned -- the legislature created a pregnancy support/abortion alternatives program that will provide financial assistance to private organizations, like crisis pregnancy centers and adoption programs, that provide abortion alternative services.

The Senate passed, but the House defeated, a proposal to reduce the cost of a marriage license for couples that receive premarital counseling. The cost of a license will still, however, go up.

A bill to mandate coverage for contraceptives and “emergency contraceptives” in the state employee’s health plan went down to a quick defeat.

The legislature adopted a resolution urging Congress to pass a human life amendment to the United States Constitution.

Parents of children with developmental disabilities now have the option of home schooling their children in certain circumstances.

New legislation updates the definition of “pain,” allowing physicians to provide more aggressive treatment. The change does affect the state’s laws against assisted suicide or euthanasia.

The Senate removed a provision from a bill that would have tied the expiration date of an immigrant’s driver’s license to the person’s federal immigration status.

The state’s laws on living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care were combined, updated, and simplified, hopefully making it easier for people, if they so choose, to execute a document appropriate for them.

The legislature approved a needed reformation of the way the state handles and funds legal representation for indigent persons accused of a crime.

After several failed attempts to enact a state human rights commission, advocates for human rights proposed a scaled-down advisory committee. The Senate defeated even that milder proposal. Not to be outdone, the House defeated a bill that would have changed the name of the Department of Labor to the Department of Labor and Human Rights; a name that would have reflected the fact that two-thirds of the departments work now concerns human rights enforcement.

The state of North Dakota will now have an office for faith-based and community initiatives in the governor’s office. The office will assist faith-based and community organizations and government agencies with building partnerships between government and the private sector to address society’s needs.

The legislature also approved a pilot project to partially fund a faith-based residential treatment center for persons with substance abuse addiction.

The legislature defeated several attempts to expand gambling in the state or sanction new forms of gambling.

Legislators approved a pilot project for residential substance abuse treatment at the State Hospital or a private facility. The project will, however, fund only twenty beds.

The legislature created a commission to look at alternatives to incarceration.

People who have expenses or lost wages due to an organ donation can now receive a tax credit. Meanwhile, state employees can, under certain circumstances, get paid leave for the purposes of donating bone marrow or an organ.

Despite strong efforts by proponents, legislators failed to provide additional needed funding for caregivers of the developmentally disabled. Likewise, the legislature opted not to fund guardianship services, despite an extensive study showing the need for such services in the state.