Bills to Watch
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 7, 2005
As I write this, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly has met for 23 days. Legislators have introduced 932 bills and 64 resolutions. Since the deadline for introducing bills, except in special cases, has passed, that number will probably hold.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference is tracking about 200 of those bills and resolutions. Many concern matters that could impact the state’s Catholic health care facilities or Catholic schools. Although important, these types of legislative proposals don’t attract much public attention.
Appropriation bills are also important. They sometimes get public attention, but many find it difficult to follow or significantly contribute to their development. These bills specify all the expenditures a government agency can make during the next biennium. Education, law enforcement, corrections, public health, tourism, economic development, human rights enforcement, water projects, and human services are all examples of programs that are dependent upon what is done to the appropriation bills.
From a Catholic perspective, perhaps the most important of these appropriation bills belongs to the Department of Human Services. These programs affect the most needy and vulnerable among us. Health care for the poor, assistance to needy families, guardianship services, long-term care, adoption, protection for children and vulnerable adults, and services for the mentally ill, the addicted, and the developmentally disabled are just some of the programs whose fate and success rests with what the legislature does with the Department of Human Services appropriation budget.
In Catholic teaching, the ultimate test for the state’s budget is how it impacts the least among us. Rather than asking only how does it affect us personally, we need to ask how does it affect those who are most in need, especially those who do not have the resources to lobby for themselves. The Department of Human Services appropriation bill, therefore, deserves our attention.
Some bills require an appropriation, but must first pass as a separate bill. Here are several important bills of this type:
SB 2409 – This bill would establish an alternatives to abortion services program. If the state has programs to discourage activities like tobacco use, alcohol abuse, pollution, and unsafe driving, and programs to encourage activities like tourism, economic development, and conservation, why can’t it have a program to discourage abortion and encourage life?
SB 2027 – This bill would help fix a broken indigent defense system. Poor individuals accused of a crime should have competent and fairly compensated legal counsel. This is not only a constitutional right, but also reflects Christian principles of justice dating back to the Old Testament.
SB 2221 – This bill would cover the legal costs needed to provide a guardian for a developmentally disabled person. Some developmentally disabled individuals can function outside of an institution with the help of guardian. Catholic Charities of North Dakota provides this service and the state recognizes the need to reimburse some of the costs. However, before a person can have a guardian, a petition must be filed and heard by the court. No funding for these actions currently exists. This bill would fix that.
SB 2349 – This bill would establish an office for Faith-based and Community Initiatives to help faith-based and community organizations access state, federal, and private funding for community projects.
Want to help? Consider doing just this: Send an e-mail or call your state senator and express your support for one of these bills.
Or: Call or e-mail your state representatives and ask them to remember the poor and vulnerable in the Human Services appropriation budget (HB 1012.)
The numbers and e-mail addresses are available by calling 1-888-635-3447. You can also download or request a legislative directory from the North Dakota Catholic Conference (http://ndcatholic.org; 1-888-419-1237.)
If you want to do or find out more, check out the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site.