Timeline

Suicide is a Problem for North Dakota

I found out yesterday that one of my good friends committed suicide.  Suicide is a particular problem in North Dakota- especially among veterans and on the reservations.  Do not be afraid to talk with a friend or family member if you think he or she may be in trouble. Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions.

Here is a link to the Mental Health America website:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/suicide

The more we know about mental health disorders and addictions, the better we can help all people lead mentally healthy lives and afford all people the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

If you would like to talk with someone:

1. Call 2-1-1 from any phone

2. Visit Mountainbrooke in downtown Grand Forks (a free place for people recovering from mental health issues to spend time with each other and work on getting healthier through activities and interaction)

3. Call the University of North Dakota Psychological Services Center at 701-777-3691 (they offer free and reduced cost counseling)

4. Participate in the Thursday night Healthy Living through Art program (sign-up with the North Valley Arts Council at 701-772-3710, more info at www.NOVAC.org)

Voter ID’s and Disenfranchisement: There is no voter fraud, just vote suppression

Some Republicans in the House have introduced a suite of disenfranchising bills under the guise of fixing North Dakota’s “voter fraud problem,” despite North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger and the Burleigh and Cass County Auditors testifying that there is almost no voter fraud, and maybe even none at all, in North Dakota,

The worst of these bills would:

  1. Inexplicably shorten the period of time people could vote by absentee ballot from 40 to 20 days, thus compressing the amount of election work for County Auditors into half the time.  (Rep. Ben Koppelman, HB 1238)
  2. Reduce state-allowed early voting from 14 to 7 days and mandate that counties must cut their early voting period in half- despite the fact that early voting is less expensive for counties than absentee voting, and shortening early voting will cause higher election costs. (Rep. Brenda Heller, HB 1400)
  3. Increase the time a voter must live in his or her voting district from 30 to 70 days, making it almost impossible for college students to vote in the district in which they live. (Rep. Randy Boehning, HB 1332)

But the worst bill is not a bill at all.  Boehning completely replaced HB 1332 with a Hog House amendment (so-called because the first time an amendment supplanted a bill had to do with pig stys) that would get rid of voter affidavits and would require ALL voters to show ID, both at the polls and for absentee voting.  Absentee voters would need to list their motor vehicle operator’s license or nondriver identification number on their absentee ballot application.  In other words, people could only vote absentee if they had an official ID licensed by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Getting rid of affidavit voting and requiring absentee voters to have state-issued ID’s would be the biggest change in North Dakota election policy since the legislature granted “no excuse” absentee voting, and maybe the greatest step backward in North Dakota voting accessibility ever.  The public has not had a chance to weigh in on the potential ID changes because the new HB 1332 is technically an amendment.  Only bills get public hearings, not amendments.  House Government and Veterans’ Affairs (GVA) Committee Chairman Jim Kasper had the committee vote on the Hog House bill without committee access to the bill’s fiscal implications, Secretary of State testimony, or the ability to question any county auditors.

Earlier in the session, Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir testified on another bill that voter fraud is not a problem, but there is a “very real possibility of disenfranchising thousands of eligible voters” by requiring voter ID’s.  “We do have segments of our population that, in some cases, may not have current forms of identification.  People who don’t drive, people who live in nursing homes and people who are homeless are groups that may not have a current form of identification. (Written Testimony Regarding House Bill 1418)”

Montplaisir testified that 6.2% of Cass County voters voted by affidavit instead of showing an ID in the 2012 general election.  Of the 4,589 affidavit votes, one voter may not have been eligible to vote in that precinct, and that occurrence is under investigation.  (Law requires auditors to send a mailing to affidavit voters and follow up on any that are returned as undeliverable or any reported as incorrect addresses.)

Proponents of Boehning’s Hog House HB 1332 argue that the amendment overhaul does not inhibit voters because the new bill provides for $122,944 per year from the Department of Transportation’s budget to provide free state ID cards for the purpose of voting. Free ID cards sounds like a step toward voting accessibility, but the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law took a deeper look and found that the requirement for certain ID’s, like HB 1332′s requirement of using a state ID number when voting absentee, is a voting deterrent:

Every voter should demonstrate that they are who they say they are before voting. That form of proof should not include restrictive documentation requirements like overly burdensome ID …  Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. The process of obtaining an ID presents significant difficulties, with voters lacking access to transportation, living dozens of miles from the nearest ID-issuing office (many of which have irregular and limited hours), and facing costs and headaches in obtaining supporting documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID), which are often difficult or expensive to come by. At the same time, voter ID policies are far more costly to implement than many assume. Instead, improvements in voting technology and modernization of our voter registration system will both increase efficiency and close the door on mistakes and fraud.  (Brennan, 2012)

But wait… it gets worse.  Amendments to another bill (Rep. Jim Kasper, HB 1275) place further restrictions on North Dakota voting by removing poll workers’ ability to vouch for voters in their districts.  Even if they are family members.

The reason for voter suppression is to limit the votes of people who traditionally back Democrats. “When Republicans emerged from the November 2010 elections with new majorities in statehouses across the country, a total of 37 states saw strict voter ID laws introduced in 2011 and 2012. Many of those proposals contained elements of the ALEC “model” voter ID act, which imposes new burdens on the right to vote by requiring voters show state-issued ID cards (Brennan, 2012).”

The November 25, 2012 issue of the Palm Beach Post reported a quote by ex Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer: “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates.”  Former Florida governor Charlie Crist (R) and Greer, as well as several current GOP members, told the Palm Beach Post that Republican consultants pushed new vote suppression measures as a way to quash Democratic voters.  Florida Governor Rick Scott’s administration claimed the new laws were meant to curb in-person voter fraud, despite the fact that an individual in Florida is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud.  In the December, 2011 issue of the USA Today, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt was quoted: “Republicans think their path to victory is through limiting eligible voters’ access to the polls.  Our goal is to maximize participation.”

Let’s re-cap.  Ben Koppelman’s HB 1238 would halve the amount of time allowed for absentee voting.  Brenda Heller’s HB 1400 would halve the days counties are allowed to offer early voting.  Randy  Boehning’s HB 1332 will “solve” North Dakota’s voting fraud “problem” by severely restricting many eligible voters’ ability to obtain a ballot.  There is no voter fraud problem. The real “problem” these bills seek to mend is nullifying the votes the Republican Party does not want to count.

The case for sales tax exemption for non-profits

Today, HB 1240, which would have provided sales tax exemptions for non-profit organizations, died on the House floor.  Representative Headland, the House FInance and Taxation Committee Co-Chair, asked in HB 1240′s committee hearing, “why should non-profits survive off the scraps of the state?”

The discussion of non-profits has been framed in the wrong light for too long, and Headland’s remark illustrates the pervasive misunderstanding of the role non-profits play.   Not only are non-profits NOT groveling for scraps, non-profit organizations are a robust part of our economy that save the state, counties and cities money.  And not only that- they MAKE money for their communities.

Our local, state and national government rely on non-profits to provide vital services to our citizens.  Non-profits serve veterans, people with disabilities, children, senior citizens, families and the general public.  They include organizations like the Circle of Friends Humane Society, the United Way, Community Violence Intervention Center, Lutheran Social Services, the Northland Rescue Mission, and PATH- all organizations that do not have for-profit counterparts.  The services non-profits provide are services that the state does not have to pay for.  Fewer state-provided services equal smaller government.

The majority of organizations that offer tourism destinations in North Dakota are non-profit organizations.  What would North Dakota’s tourism revenue be without the Lewis and Clark/Fort Mandan Association?  The Theodore Roosevelt/ Medora Association?  The Norsk Hjostfest?  Just to name a few.  Non-profit cultural events and locations make community restaurants, hotels and shops a lot of tourist revenue.  For example, my organization, the North Valley Arts Council, produces the Grand Cities Art Fest every June.  Art Fest draws 40,000 people to Grand Forks, and during the weekend of Art Fest, almost every hotel room in Grand Forks is full. This is the same draw and revenue pull as UND hockey game weekends.

Much of the national funding available to non-profits- both public and private- is unstable if not already dried up.  North Dakota is lucky that we are not forced to make budget cutbacks, but almost every federal funding source for non-profits in every sector has been or will be reduced.  Charitable organizations and their clients are still recovering from the economic downturn and, with government dollars becoming scarcer, people are turning to the organizations they know and trust for help.  But as citizens tighten their own finances, the nonprofit sector is forced to end critical programs and make due with fewer resources.

The extra programing my organization could provide if we were exempt from sales tax could be 20 weeks of Healthy Living through Art for patients at the Third Street Clinic, a full summer of art classes and English speaking experience for the Global Friends Coalition new American children.  We could hire a part-time graphic designer to better market our arts community and create more arts and tourism revenue.  The list is endless.

If North Dakota’s 63rd Assembly is willing to give hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts and incentives to out-of-state oil companies, can we not spare this relatively small amount for community-partner organizations?  To organizations that make our state a legendary place to visit and live?  North Dakota does not need to profit off of the backs of the organizations that keep our citizens and state healthy.

View Rep. Strinden’s floor speech here.  

 

It’s easier than you think to weigh in on issues during the session!

We are on Day 13 of the 2013 North Dakota State Assembly.  So far, all the juicy stuff discussions have happened in committees.  The House Human Services Committee heard testimony on the biennium’s first abortion bill, the House Judiciary Committee heard the first gun bills, and as I type this post, 50 people are trying to cram into a conference room made for 15 to hear the Senate Agriculture Committee’s hearing on animal treatment.

Before I came to the legislature, I didn’t realize how much work is done before a bill hits the legislature floor.  All bills are heard in committee first.  Unlike the United States Legislature, in North Dakota, all bills are heard on the legislature floor regardless of committee recommendation (labeled either “Do Pass” or “Do Not Pass.”)

Your chance to weigh in on the bills is during the committee hearings, and ANYONE can testify at the legislative hearings.  You are our bosses, so don’t feel shy about giving us your view.  If you are a Grand Forkser (I called the Mayor’s Office and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and neither knew what we officially call ourselves… therefore I pronounce “Grand Forkser”) interested in an issue, contact me at mjstrinden@nd.gov to find out how you can make your voice heard at the legislature.  

Once the bill is out of committee, only legislators can speak about it on the floor. (Unless it passes in the House or Senate, then it passes over to the other chamber and receives another hearing at which you can testify).

You can make a free account on the State of North Dakota’s webpage and track the bills you’re interested in.  Here’s the link:

http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/63-2013/regular/legislative-bill-tracking-system

Also, check out my new website to see what I’m up to out here: www.mariestrinden.com