Legislative Wrap Up 2021
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
Legislators introduced over 900 bills and resolutions during the 2021 legislative session. The North Dakota Catholic Conference followed about 100 of them. Here is a look at the work of the legislature on just some of the bills and resolutions.
- Defeated a bill to mandate insurance coverage for fertility treatments, some of which are contrary to Catholic teaching and threaten human life. However, the legislature might study implementing such a mandate during the interim. [The study was rejected.]
- Provided new services for youth at risk of homelessness.
- Passed a fairness in sports bill requiring that only biological girls can participate in girls sports, only to have the bill vetoed by Governor Burgum. The Senate failed to override the veto.
- Trounced a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide by a vote of 9 yeas and 85 nays.
- Increased funding for county-run guardianship programs.
- Faced an unprecedented bill to mandate priests violate the seal of confession. The bill, however, was withdrawn following an outpouring of opposition from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
- Prohibited institutions of the North Dakota University System from partnering with abortion providers. The Governor vetoed a section of the bill. The remaining sections require that any institution receiving the popular matching grants for foundations cannot partner with an abortion provider on anything.
- Defeated tax credits for contributions to a scholarship granting organization to help lower-income students. A bill to provide an income tax credit directly to parents with children in nonpublic schools also failed.
- Put off for now building a new State Hospital in Jamestown to replace the old and rapidly declining facilities there.
- Defeated several proposals to expand gambling in the state, particularly sports gambling and internet poker.
- Turned back a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota.
- Added ten slots to the corporate guardianship program run by Catholic Charities of North Dakota.
- Merged the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.
- Rejected a chance to create education empowerment grants that could be used by public or nonpublic school students to help cover the costs of tuition or supplemental needs.
- Authorized the Department of Human Services to assume the refugee resettlement program following the collapse of Lutheran Social Services.
- Defeated a bill to allow someone to use deadly force even when not necessary to protect human life. However, the legislature then passed a differently worded bill that might allow the same use of such force.
- Provided grants to expand substance abuse treatment in underserved areas.
- Approved an expansion to the tax credit for contributions to nonpublic schools and private universities.
- Protected religious freedom during emergency orders.
- Protected religious freedom for persons in state institutions such as prisons, jails, and the State Hospital.
- Allowed for a process to remove restrictions placed by a guardian on visiting and communicating with a ward.
- Clarified and hopefully finally settled questions concerning what church property local governments can tax.
- Protected the free speech and religious rights of students and student organizations on the state-run college campuses.
- Made known that North Dakota’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment had expired.
- Prohibited municipalities from enacting paid family leave policies and zoning ordinances relating to firearms. It also limited their ability to assist federal law enforcement with enforcing some gun laws.
- Changed to a study a bill that would have allowed 20 new weapons to be brought without permission into churches and other public gatherings. [The study was rejected.]
- Turned a paid family-leave plan into a study and then defeated the study.
- Expanded the income tax credit for employment of individuals with developmental disabilities.
- Rejected a bill that would have exposed private schools and churches to old claims of child sexual abuse without doing the same for public schools and government agencies.
- Created a new childhood education grant for four-year olds.
- Rejected a proposal to create a guardianship commission. Many legislators felt the plan was premature.
- Authorized the Ethics Commission to give advisory opinions.
- Secured access to residents of a long-term care facility by an essential caregiver during an emergency.
- Targeted downsizing the Life Skills Transition Center in favor of more community services.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference appreciates all the calls, emails, and letters sent to legislators and the Governor this year.
There is still more to come. In addition to needing to regather for redistricting, the legislature will need to decide what to do with millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief money coming from the federal government. The federal government has not yet set the rules for using this money. Stay tuned and pray for our elected leaders and public servants.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.