This past week marked the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. Bills passed in the House will now “cross-over” to the Senate for consideration, and vice versa for those passed in the Senate.
It’s been almost one year since our first COVID-19 case in North Dakota. This pandemic has compounded many of the issues that already challenged our state, including healthcare access, workforce development and retention, and sorely lacking physical infrastructure. As we recap the first two months of the session, we are proud of our Dem-NPL legislators who have stayed focused on the immediate and long term needs of working families, seniors, students, small business, and every day North Dakotans. However, we cannot say the same for their NDGOP colleagues who have consistently shot down legislation aimed at bettering the lives of those impacted by the pandemic. Rather, the NDGOP is intent on passing bills that show more interest in their own ideology than in the very people who elected them into office.
The NDGOP was more than happy to shell out tens of millions of dollars in CARES relief funds for large corporations and special interests at the behest of lobbyists, yet they refused to pass tax relief for small and micro businesses that would have benefitted roughly 73% of all ND companies. Their lack of support for small business and workers in our state went so far that NDGOP legislators passed a bill banning local governments from implementing paid family leave, while simultaneously refusing to provide workers’ compensation benefits for essential workers who contract COVID on the job.
Our state’s fiscal house is in disarray because the supermajority frivolously spends without a long term plan in place to support infrastructure, families and communities, and small business and their employees. Rather, they pass bills that give tax credits to parents who choose to homeschool their children or send them to private school. Last time we checked, the state does not take your tax dollars and give them to individuals who choose to build a pool or playground in their backyard when public, community options are made available to everyone. Our Dem-NPL legislators always stand proudly behind our public schools, and their students, teachers, and staff.
If you talk to any North Dakotan, rural or urban, low income or middle class, they will tell you plainly what our state needs to do to get our economy back on track. Let’s be clear: North Dakotans will not be prioritizing $16 million to cap oil wells or nearly $10 million in tax credits to support the Betsy DeVos model of education.
Alarmingly, at a time when the U.S. has surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, one major priority should be healthcare access and affordability. For the second session in a row, Dem-NPL legislators put forth bills to ensure crucial and widely popular provisions in the Affordable Care Act would be protected by the state if the reckless NDGOP backed federal lawsuit strikes it down. However, this legislation was soundly defeated by the supermajority, who couldn’t even bother to cap and lower costs on lifesaving insulin or consider mental health injuries compensable through WSI.
Denying health care coverage to their own constituents, while taking benefits on their dime, is bad enough, but NDGOP legislators upped the ante to unconstitutionality and blatant falsehoods. They attempted to waste taxpayer dollars on more unnecessary litigation, and potentially levy murder charges on anyone involved with an abortion – from doctor to nurse to Uber driver. While that rightfully failed, a bill banning local governments from mandating masks, even after Rep. Jeff Hoverson likened them to prison camps, unfortunately passed.
Now, for the NDGOP legislators that didn’t know, we did just ring in the new year of 2021, not 1951. However, they have chosen to turn back the clock by attempting to nullify the ERA, targeting already vulnerable transgender youth, and refusing to improve the handling of hate crimes in the state. Not to mention, we recently learned that leadership turned a blind eye to years of sexual harassment from a sitting legislator. Promoting blatant discrimination not only severely harms those who are targeted, it also signals to the nation and the next generation of North Dakotans that our state is not a welcoming place to work or raise a family.
Following one of the most accessible elections in ND history, marked by historically high turnout, NDGOP legislators proposed dozens of bills to restrict access to voting. This includes lengthening residency requirements (oil field workers, college students, traveling nurses, and more would be unable to vote under this bill), restricting who can vote by mail, and bringing partisan politics into redistricting. We hope that cooler heads will prevail and instead legislators will support our election workers across the state by making voting easier, not more difficult. We want all North Dakotans to have the ability to participate in democracy, and the Dem-NPL will always firmly push back against those who would try to limit this Constitutional right.
As the session goes into round two, we encourage citizens to stay engaged, contact your legislators, and reach out to the Dem-NPL if you’re looking for a new political home that will stand up for you and your family.
Kylie Oversen is the Chair of the Democratic-NPL Party. Michael Taylor is the Executive Director of the Democratic-NPL Party