By Sen. Joan Heckaman & Rep. Josh Boschee
BISMARCK — Nearly halfway through the 67th legislative session, Democratic-NPL lawmakers continue to fight for policies that support North Dakotans and their families. We have had many successes and a few missed opportunities so far this session, and we remain committed to strengthening communities and families, ensuring strong public services and building a vibrant and diverse economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on our economy, with many losing their jobs and some businesses closing their doors. Stores and restaurants found new ways to serve North Dakotans. Teachers, parents and students adapted to distance and hybrid learning. Health care workers are helping keep us healthy and safe.
To support front-line workers, Dem-NPL lawmakers proposed legislation to provide grants to these employees through future federal stimulus dollars, but the majority rejected the bill. We believe front-line workers who have worked through the pandemic deserve to be covered by workers comp if they contract COVID-19. As the majority party pushes to provide immunity to businesses, we work to protect the workers who are central to those businesses staying open.
Because good public services depend on public employees, Dem-NPL lawmakers are fighting for a strong compensation plan for state employees and we are working to increase funding for long-term care and K-12 schools.
The Dem-NPL caucus is fighting to improve health care for North Dakotans, including more transparency for prescription drug prices. We support providing continued health care coverage for the families of law enforcement killed in the line of duty. We believe mental injuries must be treated the same as physical injuries on workers’ compensation claims.
The Dem-NPL caucus works to make North Dakota a welcoming place for everyone. We sponsored bills to track bias-motivated crimes to make our state a safer place and to create a paid family leave program so families can take care of family while still collecting a paycheck. However, many members of the super-majority did not support those ideas. Additionally, Republicans advanced a discriminatory bill that targets young transgender athletes and would have a crippling economic impact for communities that host youth athletic events.
Dem-NPL lawmakers are fighting against knee-jerk reactions to the 2020 election that would make it harder for North Dakotans to vote. We defeated bills that would have eliminated absentee voting for the vast majority of North Dakotans and a bill that would make it harder to even request an absentee ballot. We support legislation to make it easier for college students living in the state to vote.
Finally, we are advocating to accelerate funding for infrastructure. Our state’s needs are growing and becoming more expensive the longer we wait to fund them. Oil and gas revenues meant to support these projects have dropped considerably, limiting available funds. Our bonding proposal would have supported critical infrastructure for cities and counties, including affordable housing, school construction, water projects, roads and bridges. It’s also important to invest Legacy Fund earnings in North Dakota.
The pandemic has had a positive side effect of making this session one of the most transparent and accessible in history. Anyone with a computer and internet access can submit testimony on bills and testify virtually without having to travel all the way to Bismarck. The public can watch in real time and hold legislators accountable as we work on their behalf.
With all issues, Dem-NPL lawmakers will seek bipartisan agreement when we can and stand against misguided policies when we must. Above all, we remain committed to fighting for all North Dakotans to ensure your values are protected and to provide a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.
Sen. Heckaman, D-New Rockford, is the minority leader of the North Dakota Senate. Rep. Boschee, D-Fargo, is minority leader of the North Dakota House.