Gun rights, school security, and agricultural property taxes were but some of the hot topics discussed Saturday at a legislatorâ€™s forum at Valley City High School.
The forum, the first of the legislative session, allowed the public to address North Dakota Congressional District 24 representative Naomi Muscha (D-NPL) a freshman legislator and a member of the Human Services Committee; District 24 representative Dwight Kiefert, (R) who is also a freshman legislator on the Human Services Committee; and North Dakota District 24 Senator Larry Robinson (D-NPL) who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee were all present to answer questions from about 34 audience members.
In his introduction, Robinson explained that some key issues in this yearâ€™s legislative session were money for schools to beef up security, infrastructure dollars, and farm property tax relief. Kiefert went on to explain that gun rights legislation was a concern for him and many of his constituents.
Since the Connecticut school shooting in December, North Dakota School administrators, staff and parents have become more aware of school security. Robinson would like money earmarked for schools to make physical changes to enhance security such as installing video monitoring systems and buzzer systems for doors.
School security could take a different turn under a bill recently written by Kiefert. His bill would allow schools and churches to opt out of being â€śgun-freeâ€ť zones. Currently, even with a concealed carry permit, guns are illegal on school grounds and churches. Kiefertâ€™s bill would allow school boards and churches to allow guns on the premises if they chose. The bill would also allow schools and churches to not announce whether they did or did not vote to allow guns, so the public, and therefore anyone who wished to commit a violent crime would not know whether there was an armed person in the facility. According to Kiefert, institutions would be allowed to decide who, whether it be a teacher, an administrator or an armed guard, would be allowed to carry a weapon.
Valley City Public Schools Superintendent Dean Koppleman explained that he would be opposed to having guns in his schools, even in the hands of trained personnel.
Muscha explained that addressing mental health issues may also be a way to stem violence and that several mental health bills were in place to be voted on during this session.
Robinson pointed out that when the state re-vamped its mental health facilities several years ago, many mentally ill people were transferred to jails and to the streets.
â€śWe are not serving them well,â€ť he said.
The topic turned to farm property taxes when members of the legislature were asked about the sharp increase this year. In some cases, ag property taxes increased about 30 percent over last year. In some cases, ag property that is unusable as tillable acreage because it is in sloughs or rivers is being taxed at a high rate, said one member of the audience.
Robinson assured the audience that the issue was being looked into and agreed that a new formula for ag property taxes needed to be looked into. In addition, the practice of not taxing buildings and residences on ag property also needed to be addressed.
According to Kiefert, most real policy-making occurs at the committee level, and is voted on by the house and the senate based on committee recommendations.
Constituents who want to make their voices heard, should write or e-mail committee members instead of their local legislators. Give details about why a certain subject should be addressed, he said, or why a bill should or should not be passed.
To find committee hearings or to contact legislators go to www.legis.nd.gov.