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

The North Dakota legislative session is in full swing. I would like write about the bills that will need your attention in the next few weeks. However, a lot can happen at the North Dakota legislature between the time I submit this column to the editors and the time you get to read it. A bill that is important today might be defeated or changed to something insignificant before the publication date.

I will, therefore, have to confine this column to sharing some of what has happened and observations on what could happen.

Defeated Bills

Sunday mornings are still for families. The North Dakota House of Representatives defeated two bills that would have weakened the state's Sunday morning closing laws. House Bill 1367 would have allowed bars to open on Sunday morning. It was defeated 24 to 65. HB 1437 would have allowed political subdivisions to exempt cities and counties from the law. It was defeated 30 to 62.
The state Senate defeated SB 2252, which would have enshrined special legal protection for sexual behavior. The Catholic Church condemns arbitrary discrimination and prejudice against a person because of sexual attraction. The legislation, however, created serious legal and policy questions and failed to protect rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Life Bills

Legislators have considered seven life-related bills, six of which have passed their first chamber. SCR 4009 is a state constitutional amendment that states: "The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected." It passed the Senate 26 - 21.

SB 2303 defines human being in the criminal code as including all human beings from fertilization.  As applied, it will most likely be successful at prohibiting the intentional destruction of healthy human embryos in the laboratory. The bill also provides Medicaid coverage to all pregnant women to the extent allowed by law. It passed the Senate by one vote.

SB 2305 requires that abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  It passed 30 - 17.

SB 2368 bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation. It passed the Senate 30-17.

HB 1305 prohibits abortion for sex selection or genetic abnormalities. It passed the House 64-27.

HB 1456 will ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. It passed the House 63-28.

The only pro-life bill that failed was SB 2302, which would have prevented the destruction of, and unethical experimentation on, healthy human embryos. It was basically identical to SB 2303 in its scope, but did not have the Medicaid coverage for pregnant women. Nevertheless, it failed 18 - 29 and SB 2303 passed.

The seven passed bills will now move to the other chamber.

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

Typically, the North Dakota Catholic Conference follows only a few tax-related bills each session. This year is different. Legislators have introduced a menagerie of bills that could impact charitable institutions, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and Catholic schools. In addition, there are several tax bills that would impact the poor. Some bills would eliminate or reduce taxes. Some would increase or impose taxes. Some just rewrite how taxes are calculated. Many of these bills have failed, but some remain for further work.

Quick Action Ahead?

Speaking of taxes, legislative leaders promise significant tax relief this session. Deciding how to provide that relief and fund infrastructure needs throughout the state will be a challenge. Perhaps that is why legislation concerning social concerns, human life, and the family seem to be moving faster this session. Legislative leaders might be trying to finish up work on issues like abortion so that they will have time at the end of the session to devote to taxes and infrastructure.

Stay Informed and Be Ready to Act

What this means for us is that bills of concern to Catholics may move quickly after the legislature returns after crossover on March 1. The best way to stay informed is to check the North Dakota Catholic Conference website daily (ndcatholic.org), especially the “Latest News” page. The next best way is to sign-up for action alerts and the e-newsletter by going to the conference web site.