Action Alert: Ask Representatives to Vote No on HB 1386, the Sexual Orientation and Transgender Bill

The House Human Services Committee has given a “do not pass” recommendation for House Bill 1386. That means it will now head to the full House for a vote.

The Catholic Church rejects unjust discrimination, but HB 1386 would provide special legal recognition based on sexual acts and expressions as well as infringe upon religious freedom.

Contact your Representatives and ask them to vote NO on HB 1386.

Contact them here: https://www.legis.nd.gov/…/pub…/publicviewpointormessage.htm

Conference Testifies in Defense of Religious Freedom

The North Dakota Catholic Conference today told the House Judiciary Committee that a bill that purports to merely protect constitutional rights actually restricts a person’s freedom to contract in accordance with religious beliefs.

For example, HB 1425 would interfere with the implementation of Catholic canon law and other religious laws.  It would also interfere with person’s right to have an  health care advance directive that reflects their religious wishes.

Proponents of the bill from the Center for Security Policy — an organization widely criticized by both conservative and liberal groups for its extreme anti-Muslim positions — attempted, but failed, to answer committee questions about how the bill could, on the one hand, be needed and, on the other hand, not change existing law.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, explained to the committee that the bill does, in fact, interfere with religious and contractual rights and that any other interpretation of the bill would render it meaningless.

Read the conference’s testimony.

Contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to give the bill a Do Not Pass recommendation.

Conference Testifies Against Killing for Property Bill

The North Dakota Catholic Conference testified against legislation that would allow people to use deadly force to protect property or when a person is fleeing a scene.

Executive Director Christopher Dodson noted that the bill violates the fundamental moral rule that a person cannot use deadly force except when it is necessary for self-defense.  The testimony is here.




New Testimonies Posted

Two new testimonies have been posted to the North Dakota Catholic Conference website.

House Bill 1383 – is an anti-loitering bill. The conference is concerned that it could be used a tool to harass pro-life prayerful persons, sidewalk counselors, the homeless, persons with mental illnesses, and religious minorities.

House Bill 1386 – is a bill to give enhanced legal rights to persons based on sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

Action Alert – No on SB 2279 and HB 1308

Why Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is a Bad Idea
SB 2279 and HB 1308 would subject poor families to drug testing and treatment as a condition for receiving economic assistance. Though well-intentioned, would be counter-productive to helping poor families and fails the basic test of a Christian society.
(1) Asking why a person is poor has its value, but not for the purpose of determining whether the person deserves help.  The person deserves help because he or she needs help.
(2) SB 2279 makes our social assistance system do the job of law enforcement.
(3) States that tried drug testing found very few drug users, but testing costs a lot to administer. The money wasted is money that could be spent on treatment.
(4) The research tells us that we cannot treat substance abuse problems unless we first take care of the family’s basic needs.
(5) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is not a cash hand-out program.  It is a comprehensive program that requires work participation.  If those jobs require drug testing for safety reasons, the participants will be tested.
(6) The state does not currently have enough drug treatment programs. Poor persons should not be hurt further because, of no fault of their own, they can’t get into a program.

Contact Your Senators and Representatives Now!
There are TWO bills in separate chambers.  Please send separate action alerts for each.
Contact your Senators NOW and ask them to VOTE NO on SB 2279.
Message: Please vote no on SB 2279. Poor families need help, not punishment.
SB 2279 could be voted on as early as Thursday, January 26.
Contact your Representatives soon and ask them to VOTE NO on HB 1308.
Message: Please vote no on HB 1308. Poor families need help, not punishment.



Contact your House Representatives NOW and ask them to VOTE NO on HB 1163.

HB 1163 would repeal the state’s Sunday closing laws.

Setting aside a common day of rest and recreation puts families and communities first.  It is part of the “North Dakota Way of Life” that makes this state great.

Contact your Representatives

Column: Time to Fund Alternatives to Abortion

For years, the state of North Dakota has quietly fought the culture of death by caring for pregnant women and their children, while at the same time addressing the root causes of poverty.  The program is called the Alternatives to Abortion program.  It reimburses pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes for services to pregnant women and women who think they might be pregnant.  It does not cover the full cost of providing those services.  It does not even come close.  It does, however, provide the agencies with some revenue to help them continue and expand their good work.

Using state funds to combat abortion in this way makes sense.  For one thing, the official policy of the state of North Dakota is to favor childbirth over abortion.  Furthering this policy cannot be done by restrictive legislation alone.  We must respond to the factors that contribute to a woman thinking that abortion is an option.  In other words, we must go after the “demand” for abortion. Finally, we cannot ignore that there is a war upon children in the womb.   Court decisions, federal policies, and cultural trends that threaten unborn lives demand a state response, including expenditures to fight for life.

The program uses federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, sometimes known as the “welfare block grant.”  Congress established TANF so states could have wide discretion to confront the causes of poverty, including out-of-wedlock pregnancies and unstable family relationships.  The same factors in a woman’s life that lead her into an unplanned and crisis pregnancy are often the same factors that lead women and their children into poverty, such as the lack of parental guidance, education, housing, health care, and work, as well as domestic abuse, absent boyfriends, addiction, and substance abuse problems.  Each time an abortion alternatives agency provides a woman with life-affirming alternatives it is also helps ensure that that woman and her child do not end up in poverty.

By all measures, the program is a success.  The number of women served has steadily increased through the years.  In 2011, the state awarded the Village Family Service Center with administering and advertising the program.  The number of women served soon doubled, serving 1194 women in the 2015 fiscal year. Meanwhile, both the percentage of pregnant women in the state choosing abortions correspondingly declined and has reached a historic low. Women accessing the services appear to choose adoption at a surprisingly high rate and almost never choose abortion

By helping women who think they are pregnant, but are not, the agencies also help prevent subsequent “scares” without resorting to demeaningly throwing contraceptives at women in the manner of Planned Parenthood.  Women who have a false pregnancy test are counseled about their needs.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the number of teenage pregnancies has declined during the same years the state has funded the program.
Two major threats to the program have loomed for several years.  One has probably abated. The other is more concerning than ever before.

For years, abortion activists have tried to stop states from using TANF funds to help pro-life pregnancy centers.  They started with a series of “exposes” that implied, but never proved, that the recipients of the funds used lies and high-pressure tactics to persuade women not to have abortions.  They also implied that using TANF funds for these purposes took away cash assistance from poor families.  In truth, cash assistance is set separately and the money used for abortion alternatives is “extra” money in the TANF block grant.

The second prong of attack was a campaign to convince the Obama administration or a future Clinton administration to issue rules preventing TANF funds from being used for abortion alternative programs.  With the election of Donald Trump, that threat appears to have gone away for now.

The second looming threat comes from the program’s success.  As mentioned, the number of women served has doubled in recent years.  However, the amount of money allocated for the program has remained the same since 2007.  As a result, the administrators had to slash reimbursement rates several times.  In the 2015 fiscal year the program actually ran out of money before the end of the year.  The state renewed the program for 2016, but only at the same amount as in previous years.  Already, the program is on course too serve 150 more women than last year with the same amount of dollars.

It is time for the North Dakota legislature to substantially increase funding for the alternatives to abortion program.  The state is facing a budget crisis.  The alternatives to abortion program is funded with federal dollars that are already available to the state.  Moreover, it is one of the smallest budget items in the state budget, coming to only $250,000 a year.  The state can afford to at least double that amount.  After all, we are talking about real alternatives to abortion.  We are talking about real help for women and children in the womb.

Column: Looming Issues for Next Session

1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe next legislative session is, depending on how you look at it, “only” or “still” five months away.  Either way, the session is approaching and now is a good time to recognize some looming issues for the next session.

The Budget 

The state budget is already the dominant issue.  The legislature just had a special session to address declining revenues, but the real work remains for the regular session.

On the one hand, North Dakota is, by some standards, doing well financially.  Unemployment is low and the state is funding some very real needs in infrastructure and education — though still not parental choice.  On the other hand, oil revenues are very low and agriculture commodity prices are taking a hit.  This means that the state is not expected to bring in as much revenue as previous years, which leads to new and difficult challenges with spending and collecting revenue.

Expect heated debates about the budget to dominate the session from Day 1 to sine die.

Human Service Needs

In February Governor ordered a set of across the board cuts for all state agencies.  These cuts hit the provision of human services especially hard.  For one thing, despite the fact that Department of Human Services targeted “new” programs for elimination, the fact remains that these were still needed programs and they were identified as such by the legislature.  Secondly, the truly needy are most impacted and are in less of a position than most of us to adjust the reduction or elimination of services.  Thirdly, some of those reductions, especially in the area of long-term care, resulted in additional losses in federal matching funds.

The Department of Human Services was spared in the second round of reductions that occurred in August, but it will likely have to present a reduced budget for the next biennium.  Just as the Year of Mercy closes, concerned citizens will have to work to make sure that our most vulnerable citizens are not left behind.

Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse

Just about every observer agrees that the state is in a crisis when it comes to behavioral health and substance abuse.  The situation was already bad before the opioid and fentanyl epidemic hit the state.  Nevertheless, while most would agree that something needs to be done, not everyone agrees on what should be done or whether there is enough funding and will to get it done.

The Department of Human Services is already in the process of reforming its delivery system through the Human Service Centers and the State Hospital.  In the meantime, an interim legislative committee has studied the matter and is preparing draft legislation for the next session.   Some of the proposals will require state funding.  There will exist tremendous pressure to not devote new funding to mental health and substance abuse services in light of the state’s budget problems.  Not acting, however, could put even more of our neighbors at risk and cost us more money in the long run through incarceration.

Incarceration Reform

Addressing our incarceration numbers is linked to addressing our behavioral health needs.  North Dakota locks up too many of its non-violent citizens for low-level drug-related crimes.  The situation is financially unsustainable and short-sighted as a policy matter.  Recommendations to lower penalties for non-violent offenses and offer alternatives to incarceration have met with some resistance.  Meanwhile, it is certain that any serious effort to address our skyrocketing incarceration rates must work in tandem with efforts to provide better and more extensive mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Medicaid Expansion

Over 19,000 North Dakotans have medical coverage as a result of Medicaid expansion passed by the legislature in 2013. Passage of the legislation, which the North Dakota Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic health care facilities supported, was difficult.  To appease some concerns, the legislation was given a “sunset” of July 31, 2017.  This means that the legislature must renew the program during the next legislative session or thousands of North Dakotans will lose or lack health care coverage they otherwise would have.  The families impacted usually earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but don’t earn enough to receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

There is a peek at some of the issues facing the next Legislative Assembly, and space does not allow me to write about the refugee program, revision of the state’s marriage laws, and protecting legislation to help the unborn and their mothers.  Stay tuned to the conference’s Facebook page and be sure to ask your candidates about these issues.

Catholic Bishops: Despite Budget Cuts, Attend to the Poor

logosharpsmallBismarck, North Dakota – North Dakota’s Roman Catholic bishops, David D. Kagan of Bismarck and John T. Folda of Fargo, have released the following statement on Governor Jack Dalrymple’s order that all state agencies cut their budgets by over four percent:

North Dakota must take its time and remember those on the peripheries when cutting the state’s budget.

In response to declining state revenue Governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered all state agencies to cut 4.05% from their current budgets. We recognize the need for the governor and lawmakers to be good stewards of the state’s resources and fulfill their obligations to the people of North Dakota.  Difficult decisions will have to be made.

At the same time, we remind all involved that the state’s budget is a moral document and will ultimately be judged on how it affects the least of us.  The poor, the marginalized, the addicted, and the ill will disproportionately feel the pain of budget cuts.

We ask the governor and state agencies to resist quick simplistic solutions such as “across the board” cuts.   A compassionate and thoughtful response requires giving due priority to needs of those who will be most hurt by a reduction of services.  This will require time and serious consideration.  It may also mean that some agencies will need to make greater sacrifices than others so that we can give priority to those most in need.

We are confident that all involved will heed the words of Pope Francis when he said: “put the needs of the poor ahead of our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor . . .”

Human Trafficking Bill Sent to Governor/Services Bill Waiting

chaintraffickingSB 2107,  the “mainframe” bill which adopts much of the uniform act on human trafficking and includes language preventing funds for victims services from being used to refer for our counsel in favor of abortion was given final approval by the Senate yesterday.  It now goes to Governor Dalrymple for his signature.

The Grand Forks Herald has more . . .

SB 2199, which provides needed services to victims of trafficking still needs Senate approval.

To see why SB 2199 is so important, check out this story from the Bismarck Tribune.