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Lloyd Omdahl, Published March 07 2011

Omdahl: They’ve labored like ants

Well, the Legislature is halfway through its biennial 80-day session and still has most of the major bills to consider.

Last session, the Legislature legalized cohabitation, thinking that this would enable it to cut appropriations for the fuel-assistance program. Everyone still got cold. So we can’t always expect legislation to achieve its goals.

This session, the first big bill was abstinence education in the high schools. Of course, by high school the kids know more about sex than the average parent. The bill was killed by reason of logical conclusion – this session, if we take on sex, next session it will be adultery, then it will be golf, and so on.

There’s another big voting bill moving through. In the past few years, we have been going in two directions – one to stifle voting, the other to encourage voting. This session, we are going to make voters bring documentation to prove that they are who they say they are. Soon it will be easier to get into Canada than into a voting booth.

Then there was the bill requiring a year of mandatory counseling before granting a divorce. The bill should have reduced the sentence for murder and provided suicide protection for the duration of the counseling. Though well-intentioned, it was like the cohabitation bill – messy to enforce.

After several weeks entertaining a bill to raid the tobacco education fund, the Legislature used insightful reasoning to kill the bill. If it took the tobacco education money, more people would get cancer, and that would create a greater need for more doctors which, in turn, would call for more money for the medical school. It was a big loser all around.

The ethics bill for public officials was killed. Most legislators thought they were ethical enough, oaths of office notwithstanding.

The Fighting Sioux logo bill continued its march through the Legislature. The debate is a continuation of the same old 400-year controversy in which a bunch of white people fight over something that really belongs to Indians.

Then there is the proposal to let older folks take courses on the college campuses free. The bill started at age 55 but was amended to age 65 because the Legislature was afraid too many folks over 55 would show up. Now that the age is 65, the bill is practically useless because folks can’t remember much of what they learn after 65.

Now that the federal census has counted us, the Legislature will redistrict the state in a special session this fall so all legislators will once again represent equal numbers of people. Drawing those district boundaries is usually difficult and malicious, so one legislator proposed that they leave the boundaries alone and move 34,000 people instead.

One of the best bills would have declared “Dancing Dakota,” a great song by Chuck Suchy, the official North Dakota waltz. The bill got waylaid because the Legislature wanted a vote on it. I hope this goes on a statewide ballot. I also want to vote on whether or not the ladybug should be the state’s official insect. I don’t think the Legislature considered all of the other options, e.g. ants work almost as hard as legislators; bees make significant contributions to the economy.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail ndmatters@q.com