2017 Session So Far
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference

February 2017

The 2017 North Dakota legislative session is in high gear. Legislators work at a fast pace. By the time you read this column, much will have changed. Remember, if you want more up-to-date information follow the conference’s Facebook page and watch the conference’s website.

Legislators introduced a little over 800 bills and resolutions this year. This is much lower than most previous sessions. The North Dakota Catholic Conference is tracking about 150 of them, though most are bills that have no impact on concerns for the church. They have to be monitored in case they are amended in a way that would cause concern.

This number is also lower than in recent sessions. What is also unusual about this session is that the Catholic conference is opposing more bills than usual. Various explanations for this could exist. We have figuratively hit a wall with pro-life legislation, unless we see changes in the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, with the state’s fiscal crisis, legislators this session have hesitated to propose new programs that might help the poor and the marginalized, something always a priority for the church. It might also have something to do with the type of bills introduced this session. Legislators seem to agree. They are defeating bills at an unusually high rate.

Although much is still happening, we can report on some legislation that has been completely or mostly resolved.

HB 1319 would have forced the identification of birth mothers who asked for confidentiality when they chose adoption for child. The North Dakota Catholic Conference along with adoption agencies and pro-life groups opposed the bill. The House defeated it with a 10-80 vote.

HB 1386 would have created special legal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. The Catholic Conference reiterated that the Catholic Church affirms the dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination, but that this bill undermined the common good while threatening religious freedom.  The House rejected the bill 22-69, with 3 absent.

HB 1383 was an anti-loitering bill the conference concluded could be used against peaceful pro-life witnesses, sidewalk counselors, homeless persons, and religious minorities. The conference testified against the bill. The House killed the bill 11 to 79.

SB 2279 would have subjected poor families to drug testing and treatment as a condition for receiving economic assistance.  The Catholic Conference testified against the bill.  It was later amended to make to make it less punitive and only require testing if it was part of a jobs program. Nevertheless, the Senate rejected the bill by a 20-26 vote.  

SB 2315 would have allowed the use of deadly force to protect harm to property, if alleged criminal was fleeing a scene, and even when a person could avoid using deadly force. The North Dakota Catholic Conference testified against the bill.  The Senate defeated the bill 4 to 42.

HB 1294 would have allowed alkaline hydrolysis for the disposal of human remains. Alkaline hydrolysis reduces the human body to bone ash and a liquid substance through a chemical reaction. While the bone ashes might be returned to the decedent's family, the liquid substance that is produced in the process, which can amount to 300 gallons, is usually flushed into the public waste system. The Catholic Conference testified against the bill and the House Human Services Committee removed the objectionable part from the bill.

SB 2201 would have dictated that private religious universities allow certain "free speech" in university publications, even it violates the university's policies and religious tenets. 
The Catholic Conference testified against the bill and the Senate Committee removed those parts of the bill.

HB 1273 mandates that churches allow guns inside the church unless it posts a "No Guns" sign at every entrance. The Catholic Conference testified against the bill.  The committee is working on amendments to address the concerns.

HB 1427 would have would have allowed state and local governments to collect information on refugees and halt refugee resettlement. The North Dakota Catholic Conference testified against the bill but offered an amendment to turn the matter into an interim study. The committee accepted the amendment and turned the bill into a study and gave it a Do Pass recommendation.  

HB 1163 repeals the Sunday morning closing law. The Catholic Conference testified against this bill. The House initially defeated the bill 44 to 50. However, the next day the House reversed itself and passed the bill 48 to 46. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Testimony on these and other bills are on the North Dakota Catholic Conference website. There are other important bills the conference is opposing or supporting. Stay informed through the conference’s Facebook page and its website at ndcatholic.org.