The New Legislative Session
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
The new North Dakota legislative session has started. So should we.
To help you understand the legislative process in North Dakota and how to reach your state and federal officials, the North Dakota Catholic Conference has two documents available to the public.
The first is a directory of all state and federal officials. It comes in a brochure-size trifold to make it easy to take it with you. The second is a larger guide explaining the legislative process, how you can testify before a legislative committee, how to find your legislators’ votes and other useful information. Both of these documents are available online (ndcatholic.org) and are sent by regular mail to people who have joined the conference’s Legislative Action Network.
Members of the Legislative Action Network receive, in addition to the directory and legislative guide, regular e-newsletters throughout the legislative session and action alerts. These action alerts are the best way to act quickly on legislative items of concern to the Catholic Church. You can join the network through the conference website at: ndcatholic.org/registration.
Want to stay even more informed? To get the most up-to-date information subscribe to the conference’s RSS feed, Facebook, and Twitter pages. These services provide more up-to-the-minute information than the e-newsletters.
Real Presence Radio
Through out the session I will give legislative up-dates, wrap-ups, and calls to action on various Real Presence Radio programs. This North Dakota-based Catholic network now reaches across most of the state. Make an effort to listen and stay informed.
Come to the Capitol
Every North Dakotan should take some time to visit the Capitol during the legislative session. It is your capitol. If you have never done so, take some time and schedule a tour. The Capitol Building has some great features and stories to go with it.
Take some time to attend a committee hearing, even if it is about an issue that does not interest you. Committees are where most of the work of the legislature is done. Listen to how legislators ask questions and the interaction between legislators and the lobbyists and citizens who testify. All committee meetings are open to the public. Walk in, even if the door is closed.
Committee hearing schedules for the week usually come out the preceding Friday. That sometimes gives only a short notice to those who want to attend a Monday hearing. The North Dakota legislature moves fast.
The chairman - which is the proper term, even if the person is a woman - determines how to run the committee meetings. Most chairmen will try to stick to the time scheduled for a hearing. If a hearing runs long, the next scheduled hearing will follow. Just wait.
However, a few chairmen will take the agenda as a list. As soon as one hearing is finished, the next will start, even if the next hearing is scheduled for later. You may arrive at the scheduled time only to find that you are too late. This is frustrating and complaints have been made, but some chairmen continue to operate in this manner.
A hearing will usually begin with an introduction by the legislator who introduced the bill, followed by testimony in support of the bill. The committee will then hear testimony against the bill. Most committees will not allow neutral testimony. The committee will usually not discuss and vote on the bill until a later time, which usually is not scheduled.
Everyone can testify. Legislators like hearing from “regular” citizens. Keep your testimony short and try to discuss the legislation rather than the broader issue. For example, if a bill is about a specific high school graduation requirement, talk about that requirement and not the state of public education in general.
Worship and Celebrate
Every session the North Dakota Catholic Conference shows their appreciation for our elected officials with a Mass followed by dinner. Everyone is invited to the liturgy. Please come join our elected officials for this special Eucharistic Celebration on January 29 at Holy Spirit Cathedral in Bismarck, starting at 5:30. Bishop David Kagan will celebrate. Bishop John Folda will be the guest homilist.