2011 Session Wrap-Up
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
May 2011

The North Dakota Legislative Assembly finished the 2011 session on April 28. The North Dakota Catholic Conference watched 144 bills and resolutions this session.  Here is a look at some of them.

The legislature passed one pro-life bill and managed to evade voting on another. House Bill 1297 makes several changes to the state’s abortion laws. Among the changes are new restrictions on the use of abortion drugs, new reporting requirements, new materials informing women of their rights and the development of their unborn child, strengthening the parental consent provisions, and a provision requiring all state agencies to give preference and encouragement to birth over abortion.

House Bill 1450 would have placed protection of all human beings in the criminal code, thereby protecting human embryos from intentional destruction and, to the extent permissible by the courts, banned abortion. The bill passed the House but the Senate used rarely seen parliamentary maneuvers to prevent the bill from getting a vote.

Despite the state government’s unprecedented surplus, the legislature did not use the opportunity to do more to help most needy and vulnerable. The guardianship services for developmentally disabled adults provided by Catholic Charities of North Dakota is almost fully funded, but funding for the the agency’s special needs adoption services will come up short. The legislature established some guardianship services for vulnerable adults pending a comprehensive study of the matter. Efforts to expand health care coverage for children and pregnant women failed.

The state took some steps toward fairness for students in nonpublic schools. North Dakota residents graduating from a nonpublic school in a bordering state will now be eligible for state-sponsored scholarships if they attend college in North Dakota. Students in North Dakota’s nonpublic high schools can now receive credit toward graduation for religion studies courses.

In what turned out to be a hard-fought victory, students in North Dakota schools will now be taught about the risks associated with adolescent sexual activity and the social, psychological, and physical health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity before and outside of marriage.

Religious liberty and free speech were protected when the state senate defeated two broadly written hate crime bills. Both rights were infringed, however, by a bill prohibiting property owners, including churches, from restricting guns on their parking lots. It even prevents asking whether someone brought guns onto the property. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople might fair better. The legislature passed a resolution urging the government of Turkey to recognize the patriarch’s religious, speech, and property rights.

Returning to the subject of parking lots, the legislature clarified that church parking lots and surrounding property are properly excluded from property taxes.

When leaving those parking lots after mass, there will not be more distractions from family time thanks to the defeat of a bill which would have exempted numerous businesses from the Sunday morning closing law. Most impacted would have been the automobile dealerships, but their association opposed the bill, noting how it would disrupt the families of their employees. Now, if only we could do something about Sunday morning hockey and soccer games.