Associated Press, Published April 14 2013
North Dakota Legislature approaches end with much to finishBISMARCK — North Dakota's Legislature has little more than two weeks to finish its work before state constitution's 80-day limit is imposed.
Monday is Day 67.
North Dakota's House and Senate have worked through several contentious measures this session, including passing Medicaid expansion and restrictive abortion bills. Lawmakers also have hammered through some seemingly lesser legislation like rejecting a measure that would have allowed a rearview mirror to replace observers on boats towing water skiers.
Both chambers have more than two dozen measures to work through, including all remaining two-year budget bills for state agencies, programs and the Legislature itself.
North Dakota has shored up its position as the most restrictive state in the nation by passing legislation last week that outlaws abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to sign the bill into law. It's yet another direct challenge by the state to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
Dalrymple already has signed into law this session the nation's strictest restriction on abortion — a measure that bans the practice when a heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. He signed two other measures banning abortions because a fetus has genetic defects such as Down syndrome and requiring that doctors who perform abortions be physicians with hospital-admitting privileges.
New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has said it is committed to challenging the fetal heartbeat bill on behalf of the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo. The group already represented the clinic for free in a lawsuit over a 2011 law banning the widely accepted use of a medication that induces abortion. A judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of the law.
The trial for that lawsuit begins Tuesday in Fargo.
North Dakota's Republican-led Legislature reluctantly— and most observers say surprisingly — voted to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured residents of the state.
The Senate approved the bill 33-14 last week. The House approved the measure 57-36 in February.
GOP-lawmakers in both chambers said they felt forced to vote for Medicaid expansion — a component of the federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama — because of the added costs to residents if they didn't.
Republican Sen. Spencer Berry, a Fargo physician, voted for the expansion but told his fellow lawmakers that he would hold his nose in doing so.
Dalrymple is expected to sign the legislation.
North Dakota's Medicaid program now covers about 65,000 people a month. If Dalrymple signs the measure, an additional 20,000 people — mostly adults without children — would be added to the program.
ART LINK LAPEL PINS
North Dakota Democrats have donned lapel pins in the past week with an image of Arthur Link, a former North Dakota governor, congressman and longtime state legislator known for environmental stewardship. Link died in 2010 at the age of 96.
Link was elected to the state House of Representatives from McKenzie County in 1946 and served as a legislator for 23 years. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1970 and served one term before North Dakota lost a seat due to reapportionment.
He became governor in 1973 and served for two four-year terms.
In the North Dakota House, Link wanted oil-producing counties to keep some tax revenues for road repairs. As governor, Link insisted on strong regulations for reclaiming land that had been mined for coal and collecting tax revenue from companies that were reaping a one-time harvest of minerals.
Democrats, who are selling the lapel pins for $5, said the pins are an effort to keep Link's legacy of environmental stewardship and conservation at the forefront in the midst of North Dakota's unprecedented oil boom.
“We believe everyone in the Capitol needs a daily reminder to channel their inner ‘Art Link,’ carefully weigh each decision, and leave their own legacy that the next generation will be proud of,” House assistant Democratic leader Corey Mock of Grand Forks said.