5 things to know today: Amendment bill, Routes canceled, 'Forever chemicals', Gender-affirming, State sport
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. House advances measure to make changing North Dakota Constitution harder
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
North Dakota lawmakers are advancing restrictions to the process for citizens to amend the state constitution.
The state House of Representatives on Thursday passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 4013 by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, in a 73-18 vote.
The measure goes back to the Senate for concurrence on amendments. The Senate in February had passed the resolution, 44-3.
If the Senate approves of the House changes, the measure would go on the November 2024 general election ballot for voters to decide.
Myrdal has said the measure is to enhance "grassroots" efforts of citizen initiatives. She described North Dakota's constitution as standing "naked on Main Street," open to changes by out-of-state influences.
The measure would limit citizen-initiated measures to one subject, "as determined by the secretary of state."
Myrdal's proposal would raise the signature threshold for ballot placement to 5% of the state's most recent federal decennial census, up from 4%. Only qualified North Dakota voters could circulate petitions for signatures.
Constitutional initiatives also would have to be approved at both the June primary and November general elections by majority votes.
The House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee removed the measure's proposed restrictions on petitioners, including a 120-day residency requirement and a payment/gift ban, and gave the resolution a 9-2 "do pass" recommendation.
The resolution passed with little discussion. Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, urged a no vote, saying the measure could appear on the ballot next to one that would water down the term limits voters approved last year.
2. West Fargo puts school bus routes on hold amid driver shortage
An all too familiar message was sent to West Fargo Public Schools parents, letting them know four routes are getting cut for the week of March 26.
Like many school districts, West Fargo is being forced to combine bus routes, consolidate times and temporarily cancel routes on a rotating basis. They are not seeing a large amount of drivers quitting, but the hiring pool is shrinking tremendously.
In his 20 years as West Fargo schools transportation director, Brad Redmond spent the first 18 inside the office. But the past two years were mostly spent behind the wheel, filling in as a driver.
He is not the only atypical wheelman.
Read more from WDAY's Nick Broadway
3. Minnesota budget includes $45 million to reduce 'forever chemicals'
Two Minnesota state agencies are giving an update on their efforts to reduce the impact and use of forever chemicals in the state.
Officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Health highlighted the more than $45 million in Gov. Tim Walz's One Minnesota budget request focusing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, during a press conference Thursday, March 23.
The money would go toward supporting water monitoring and fish contamination assessments, helping businesses reduce the use of PFAs in their products, and addressing drinking water systems that have been contaminated, according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka.
"MPCA will also use these dollars to start investigations, to find responsible parties to help with the cleanup work, and also work to sample private wells where we have areas of concern," he said.
Read more from WDAY's Jay Dahl
4. Minnesota House takes up bill to protect gender-affirming care
Members of the Minnesota House were set to vote Thursday, March 23, on a “trans refuge” bill to protect against other states from interfering with hormone replacement therapy and other treatments for transgender children.
The move comes as many states across the U.S., including Minnesota’s neighbors, consider or enact legislation restricting gender-affirming treatments for minors. At a news conference ahead of the House floor vote, Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, the state’s first openly transgender woman lawmaker, said the protections are needed amid the national push to restrict treatments for children.
“We have a responsibility to create more space for our communities to live their fullest authentic lives without fear of violence, rejection, abuse or political attack,” said Finke, the bill’s main sponsor in the House.
Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday signed into law a bill restricting children from accessing gender-affirming treatments.
Read more from Forum News Service's Alex Derosier
5. With the stroke of a pen, curling becomes North Dakota’s official state sport
North Dakota has an officially designated state flower, beverage and fossil. Now, it has a state sport, too.
Seated on top of a pristine sheet of ice, Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation Thursday, March 23, to make curling North Dakota’s official sport.
In a pun-laden speech, Burgum told a crowd of about 100 at Bismarck’s Capital Curling Club he was more excited to ink his name to Senate Bill 2229 — a "sweeping" change to state law — than any other proposal this legislative session.
The bill came from an unlikely source: 11-year-old Alaina Schmit, who has been a curler in Bismarck almost half her life.
After finding that North Dakota didn’t have an official state sport, Schmit approached Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, about mounting a push to honor curling with the symbolic title. Schmit and fellow middle school curler Etta Knapp testified on behalf of the bill and lobbied lawmakers prior to votes on the legislation.