5 things to know today: Fufeng project, Corporate agriculture, Abortion laws, Pledge bill, Pay raise
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Grand Forks mayor, others: Time to pull plug on Fufeng
Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he believes the controversial Fufeng project “should be stopped” after a representative from the U.S. Air Force wrote that the proposed wet corn mill in Grand Forks is a “significant threat to national security.”
“The federal government has requested the city’s help in stopping the project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project,” Bochenski said in a statement sent to the media Tuesday afternoon. “The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits. As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”
Read more from Forum News Service's Meghan Arbegast
2. North Dakotans argue merits of corporations in animal agriculture
Supporters of a bill to loosen restrictions on North Dakota’s corporate farm law say it’s too difficult to raise the capital needed to start a large livestock operation in a state that is already woefully behind its neighbors in animal agriculture.
Detractors say the bill opens up the state to foreign-owned corporations who don’t care about family farms or small towns.
House Bill 1371 even drew Gov. Doug Burgum to testify in front of the House Agriculture Committee on Friday, Jan. 27.
Burgum said he is a partner in a cow-calf ranch in Slope County, and when those cattle are weaned, they go out of state because there aren’t enough feedlots in North Dakota.
“We prevent our family farms from accessing the ability to aggregate capital and protect themselves from risk like every other business does in the state,” Burgum said.
The bill would make it easier for corporate entities to operate dairies and feedlots for cattle, hogs and poultry by changing the way they are defined. The new definition would mean these animal ag operations don’t have to comply with the state’s corporate farming law, which is designed to limit farmland ownership to families and keep corporations on the sidelines.
These animal feeding corporations would be limited to owning 160 acres of land.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeff Beach
3. North Dakota Senate passes bill revising abortion laws
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
Proposed revisions to North Dakota's abortion laws cleared the state Senate on Tuesday.
Lawmakers in a 43-4 vote passed Senate Bill 2150, brought by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.
Myrdal has said the bill is to clear up language between the state's 2007 trigger ban and 2013 "heartbeat bill" in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to an abortion last year.
Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, a former social services director, said she worked with "many families where incest has been a problem," including three cases of children younger than 12 who became pregnant due to incest. None reported the incest until they were found to be pregnant and after six weeks gestation, Hogan said.
"These girls faced many new traumas in addition to the incest," Hogan told the Senate. "Carrying a pregnancy to term for ... children is a life-altering trauma."
One girl attempted suicide three times within six weeks after learning of her pregnancy, according to Hogan.
She said the bill is better than the blocked trigger law, "But it's still devastating to the victims of rape and incest."
4. North Dakota House advances bill to require schools, government boards to host Pledge of Allegiance
The North Dakota House unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday, Jan. 31, that would require schools and governing bodies to give students and board members a chance to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
House Bill 1120, sponsored by Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck, would mandate school districts to allow the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by students at the start of each school day. The proposal also requires public panels, including school boards, to allow members to say the pledge before meetings.
The bill comes after the Fargo School Board voted in August to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance — a move that sparked outcry from politicians and pundits. School board members received threatening messages before reinstating the recitation of the pledge about a week after the initial decision.
Heinert, who collaborated with Gov. Doug Burgum's office on the bill, previously said the Fargo controversy didn’t influence his decision to introduce the legislation.
Representatives on Tuesday also advanced House Bill 1172, which bars the governor from altering the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
5. North Dakota judges, Supreme Court justices seek salary increases
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
North Dakota's judges and Supreme Court justices are asking the state Legislature for salary increases they say are overdue.
The increases sought over two years — 20% in July 2023, 15% in July 2024 — under House Bill 1002 would put the officials near the middle of the pack when compared to other states, a panel of representatives told the Bismarck Tribune editorial board Tuesday, Jan. 31. The judges and justices now rank 40th and 41st in the nation, respectively, according to the National Center for State Courts.
Judicial officers in recent years have opted not to push for raises in light of state budget cuts or dips in the farm economy, said Northeast District Judge Barbara Whelan.
“We have been quietly kind of going along, and that has resulted in us falling so far behind,” Whelan said.
Judges render decisions that affect people’s lives, and see “some of the most horrible activity and behavior by human beings that you can possibly see,” said South Central District Judge David Reich, secretary/treasurer of the North Dakota Judges Association. Judges socially isolate themselves to remain impartial, and can at times face threats after a decision, Reich said.
“There are trade-offs when you become a judge I think a lot of other state employees and other individuals don’t think about and don’t have to deal with,” he said.
Judges who are elected or appointed get the same salary as the most senior judge, said Supreme Court Justice Daniel Crothers.