Dem-NPL lawmakers tout success despite small numbers

Major proposals related to childcare, school lunch, workforce and suicide prevention are among the nearly 60 bills sponsored by Democratic-NPL lawmakers that have passed during the first half of North Dakota’s 2023 legislative session. Legislation that was successful in its originating chamber now crosses over to the other chamber for consideration.

“The Dem-NPL caucus is laser focused on developing solutions that help North Dakota families, especially those struggling to find or afford childcare, those dealing with food insecurity, and those facing the tragedy of suicide,” said Dem-NPL House Leader Josh Boschee (D-Fargo). “We’ve also proposed real solutions to our workforce shortage including creating a new immigration office and supporting apprenticeships and education at every level.”

Senate Dem-NPL Leader Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo) highlighted the passage of bills that will bolster the state’s childcare assistance program, modernize childcare employee background checks, establish stabilization grants for childcare providers struggling to stay in business, and provide a direct childcare tax credit to working families. These bills were led by Hogan and Sen. Ryan Braunberger (D-Fargo).

“Every community in North Dakota continues to face a growing childcare crisis,” said Hogan. “I’m pleased the Senate has passed this package of childcare bills that will provide meaningful help for both families and businesses, and I hope the House continues to build on these.”

In addition to childcare, the Dem-NPL caucus championed many other bills to address workforce challenges. Sen. Tim Mathern (D-Fargo) and Rep. Hamida Dakane (D-Fargo) sponsored bills to encourage New Americans to live and work in North Dakota. The House passed Rep. Boschee’s bills to bolster apprenticeships through tax incentives and scholarships, as well as a bill from Rep. Gretchen Dobervich (D-Fargo) to add community health workers to our healthcare workforce. Additionally, House Assistant Dem-NPL Leader Zac Ista (D-Grand Forks) authored a bill to streamline teacher licensure requirements.

While GOP lawmakers introduced dozens of bills targeting transgender youth and purporting to protect families from imagined threats like drag shows and library books, the Dem-NPL caucus passed legislation to help families with real issues. Rep. LaurieBeth Hager (D-Fargo) and Rep. Ista led efforts to expand no-cost school meals to more students and ban lunch shaming in schools. Bills from Rep. Karla Rose Hanson (D-Fargo), Rep. Mary Schneider (D-Fargo), and Sen. Hogan will bolster the state’s efforts to prevent suicide, provide pain relief to persons in hospice care, and fund crisis response in mental healthcare. Additionally, Alisa Mitskog (D-Wahpeton) cracked down on vaping among North Dakota youth, and Reps. Ista and Boschee shepherded bills to protect victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Reps. Jayme Davis (D-Rolette) and Lisa Finley-DeVille (D-Mandaree) championed legislation to enshrine portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act in state law. The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law to keep Indian children with Indian families, and adding it separately to state law would ensure that Native children within North Dakota grow up with their cultural ties intact.

“As our state government continues to build stronger relationships with Tribal Nations that are located within North Dakota’s borders, codifying current practice into Century Code as it relates to Native children in the adoption process is integral to continue building trust and respect into the future,” said Rep. Davis.

Dem-NPL legislators also successfully worked to increase accountability and transparency in government. Rep. Liz Conmy (D-Fargo) put forward bills to increase access to political candidates and disclosure of campaign contributions in school board races, Sen. Merrill Piepkorn (D-Fargo) championed better oversight of oil companies owing royalty payments to landowners, and Rep. Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) worked to close loopholes in state record retention laws that allowed wholesale deletion of officeholders’ emails.

While working on these initiatives, Dem-NPL legislators also pushed back against Republican proposals that take away local control, reduce long-term revenue sources by cutting taxes for the richest North Dakotans and big oil companies, interfere in parental decisions, criminalize doctors providing reproductive and gender-affirming care, and target public employees’ pensions.

“Our caucus is holding true to our commitment of working with the majority party on issues important to North Dakotans, while also working to hold the majority accountable when they overreach,” Boschee said.

Democrats hold 12 of 94 seats in the House of Representatives and four of 47 seats in the Senate. The 68th North Dakota Legislative Assembly will reconvene for further work beginning March 1 and expects to conclude its work for the 2023 session by early May.