5 things to know today: 'Golden parachute', Vaccine bills, Speed limit, Food shortage, Repair shop
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Who should pay for Bresciani's 'golden parachute?' Higher ed bill would take charge off NDSU's plate
Several amendments to a North Dakota higher education budget bill passed a committee hearing Tuesday, Feb. 7, including one that would require the state university system office, not North Dakota State University, to bear the cost of the severance package of former President Dean Bresciani.
The amendment to House Bill 1003, which passed on a 6-1 vote, calls on the North Dakota University System office to pay NDSU $400,000 for additional costs incurred when Bresciani’s contract was not renewed, which some have referred to as a "golden parachute."
It was among five amendments to the higher education bill heard by the House Appropriations Education and Environment Division committee on Tuesday.
If the bill passes with the amendment intact, it would apply to all future severance agreements at the state’s 11 colleges and universities, not just Bresciani’s split as NDSU president, said Rep. Steve Swiontek, R-Fargo.
Committee chair Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said it’s a way to ensure schools aren’t penalized for a severance agreement in which they have no input.
“They still didn't have a say in the financial aspect of this package, but yet they're saddled with the costs. And we have a school in NDSU right now which is in the hurt bag financially, so this will help NDSU and any other school going forward,” Nathe said.
In late January, NDSU President David Cook outlined cuts to academic colleges, programs and faculty to deal with $7.6 million in funding reductions for the 2023-25 budget biennium.
Read more from The Forum's Robin Huebner
2. Bill would ban COVID-19 shots in North Dakota; lawmakers weighing more vaccine bills, again
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
North Dakota lawmakers are again weighing bills that target vaccines, including one that would ban COVID-19 shots.
The Senate Human Services Committee on Tuesday heard Senate Bill 2384, brought by Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton. The bill would ban messenger RNA vaccines in North Dakota and penalize providers with a misdemeanor charge. It's one of several bills opposing vaccines, a trend in legislation since 2021.
The Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 shots are mRNA vaccines. Supplies of other COVID-19 vaccines by Novavax and Janssen are expiring, and the federal government isn't purchasing additional doses, according to state Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA created in a lab to teach cells how to make a protein that triggers a body's immune system to produce antibodies protecting people from getting sick from a germ.
Magrum proposed amendments to make the bill into a two-year moratorium on mRNA vaccines and for a study.
The Senate panel did not take immediate action on the bill.
Magrum said he introduced the bill after two aunts died from blood clots "after they received a shot," and after he noticed "a huge uptick in young people dying suddenly" in obituaries. He also cited concerns with a new vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus in children.
At the end of 2022 nearly 70% of North Dakota adults were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the rate for all vaccine-eligible people -- age 5 and older -- at about 63%, according to federal data. That compared with 64% and 57%, respectively, at the end of 2021. North Dakota still lags behind the national rates.
More than 1 million doses of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been administered in North Dakota, according to Howell.
3. North Dakota bills would raise highway speed limit, tighten seat belt laws
The two chambers of the North Dakota Legislature have sent mixed messages to drivers this week: hit the gas and buckle up.
The House of Representatives voted 65-29 on Tuesday, Feb. 7, to pass House Bill 1475, which would raise the speed limit on multi-lane highways from 75 mph to 80 mph.
Across the hall, the Senate approved Senate Bill 2362 in a 31-14 vote on Monday. The legislation would allow police to pull over a vehicle if the driver or any passengers are not wearing seat belts.
Each bill will now head to the opposite chamber.
The familiar proposals have long divided libertarian-leaning lawmakers and their safety-minded colleagues.
Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, and other supporters of raising the speed limit on Interstates 29 and 94 say it would save drivers time and reduce their likelihood of getting pulled over.
Koppelman, who has sponsored failed bills to increase the speed limit three other times, noted in a hearing last month that several neighboring states, including South Dakota and Montana, have set top speed limits at 80 mph. The bill still would allow cities to establish lower speed limits when highways run through city limits, Koppelman added.
The state Department of Transportation didn’t explicitly oppose the bill at last month’s hearing, but Deputy Director for Engineering Matt Linneman told lawmakers there are curvy and urban patches of I-29 and I-94 that cannot accommodate an 80 mph speed limit. Koppelman said the department would retain the ability to limit speed in those sections of road.
Linneman and the state Highway Patrol asked lawmakers to add a 40 mph minimum speed limit to the bill to “mitigate the unsafe driving conditions caused by large speed differentials.” The House Transportation Committee did not approve the proposed amendment.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
4. 3 million pound food shortage hits Great Plains Food Bank as demand rises
Supply is not meeting demand at Great Plains Food Bank, which saw the need for food increase last year while available supplies dramatically decreased.
The number of people needing food in 2022 across North Dakota and Clay County, Minnesota, increased by 14%, but the total amount of food donations received dropped by 25%, said Melissa Sobolik, chief executive officer of the Great Plains Food Bank, 1720 3rd Ave N.
“Reviewing our statistics from last year confirmed two things to be true that we were expecting: the need remains high while food donations remain low,” Sobolik said, adding the food distributed also dropped from 15.2 million pounds in 2021 to 11.9 million pounds in 2022.
Great Plains Food Bank provided food assistance to 138,439 people last year, which was the second-highest total in the organization's 40-year history.
The highest year on record was around 150,000 people helped in 2020, the year the coronavirus pandemic began.
The lack of food donations was projected to drop last summer to a 1 million pound shortfall, but the organization saw a 3 million pound shortage in donations, the lowest level since 2012, Sobolik said.
To offset the loss, the food bank purchased more than 1.9 million pounds of food, which was a 25% increase in purchases from the year before, she said.
Read more from The Forum's C. S. Hagen
5. John's Repair shop fighting Fargo City Hall to remain open
John Bultman has been operating an auto repair business out of a garage in north Fargo for 42 years and he wants to keep doing that for the foreseeable future.
However, Bultman recently received notice from the city of Fargo that his business near 12th Avenue and 11th Street North is operating in violation of city ordinances and he has been given until March 30 to shut down his shop.
Bultman maintains that John's Repair shop, which was also known as Bass Auto when Bultman was also in the business of selling cars, was "grandfathered in" when zoning changes were made years ago and he said that still holds true, even though he recently sold the garage that houses the shop, along with the nearby home he lives in and several other homes/rental properties he owned in the neighborhood.
Bultman, who now rents his former home and the unattached garage housing his shop, said he was willing to work with the city and shutdown the business when he turns 70 in August, but when he was informed by the city that he had to leave at the end of March he decided he would stay indefinitely.