5 things to know today: Department rename, No lunch, Pipeline hearing, Failed bills, Transparency requirement
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Equity and inclusion director for Fargo Public Schools to resign, department to be renamed
The first equity and inclusion director hired by Fargo Public Schools is resigning, and the department she leads has a new name.
The resignation of Tamara Uselman was expected to be heard during the Fargo Board of Education meeting Tuesday, March 28, and take effect on June 30.
While Uselman, 61, is stepping down from the equity and inclusion role, she’ll remain with the school district part time, mentoring new administrators.
She describes her job of the last three years as a challenge and an honor.
“I wish I was 10 years younger. I would do it for another decade without thinking twice,” Uselman said.
With her resignation comes a change in the name of the department she leads.
The Equity and Inclusion Department will now be known as the Educational Justice Department, a decision made by Superintendent Rupak Gandhi in consultation with Uselman, according to district spokesperson AnnMarie Campbell.
“The term Educational Justice more clearly describes the work of Fargo Public Schools and our current Equity and Inclusion Department,” Campbell said.
Uselman said the nature of the work shouldn't be any different under a new title.
When hired, she was tasked with administering diversity, equity and inclusion programs for the district, guiding employees in those programs and advocating for diversity, equity and intercultural competency.
While some people choose to put political connotations on that work, Uselman said she stays out of those battles.
Read more from The Forum's Robin Huebner
2. Attempt to revive school lunch funding bill fails in North Dakota
The North Dakota Senate dealt a death blow on Tuesday, March 28, to a bill that would have expanded a free lunch program for schoolchildren from low-income families.
The Republican-dominated chamber rejected House Bill 1491 on Monday by a single vote, but supporters of the legislation pushed to revive it.
By rule, a senator who initially voted against the bill could ask for it to be reconsidered on Tuesday. Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, called for the proposal to be reconsidered Tuesday, but the Senate voted 20-27 to not reconsider the bill. That means several lawmakers who supported the legislation on Monday did not want it resurrected.
Tuesday's vote was a blind tally, so how each lawmaker voted was not disclosed.
The bill sponsored by Rep. LaurieBeth Hager, D-Fargo, would have dedicated $6 million over the next two school years to cover K-12 students' lunch costs if their family income is less than double the federal poverty level. The House approved the bill last month.
Families of four with incomes at or below $60,000 would have qualified for Hager's free lunch program in North Dakota, according to current poverty level income figures. A federal program already provides free meals to students from families making below 130% of the federal poverty level, so the state allocation would have applied to kids with family incomes between 130-200% of the poverty level.
Republican opponents of the bill said Monday that parents should be responsible for providing their children with lunches at school.
“I can understand kids going hungry, but is that really the problem of the school district? Is that the problem of the state of North Dakota?" said Sen. Mike Wobbema, R-Valley City. "It’s really the problem of parents being negligent with their kids."
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
3. Farmer concerns, support surface at Summit pipeline hearing
Benjamin Dotzenrod says he doesn’t want to drive over a hazardous liquid carbon dioxide pipeline with a heavy piece of farm equipment.
In a hearing on the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline on Tuesday, March 28, Dotzenrod described for the North Dakota Public Service Commission how air pockets can develop underground in farm fields where drain tile has been broken and repaired.
“These air pockets eventually collapse,” said Dotzenrod, who farms land in Richland County that is in the path of the planned Summit Carbon Solutions carbon pipeline. “I would like to avoid expensive equipment in excess of 50,000 pounds from falling onto an operating pressurized carbon dioxide pipe.”
Such a collapse under a piece of heavy equipment could lead to a rupture of the pipeline below, he said. That would be considered a “third party strike,” meaning he would be responsible for the carbon dioxide leak and its potentially lethal consequences.
“We are here today because we have something in common we want — to see this pipe placed on a route that minimizes impacts to North Dakota landowners, homeowners, employees, business owners and volunteer emergency workers,” Dotzenrod said. “We also want to have good chances this pipeline operates normally without interruption, without unintentional third-party strikes. That the integrity of this pipe is preserved after installation. That it does not adversely impact environmental quality.”
He said he has asked Summit Carbon Solutions to alter its route around the field that he farms, one with drain tile and unstable soil that he says could be subject to “heaving."
“It is clear current routing does not minimize impacts to North Dakota landowners,” Dotzenrod said.
Tuesday’s was the second PSC hearing on the Summit pipeline, which would connect 32 ethanol plants in five states to an underground storage site in western North Dakota.
While the first hearing in Bismarck focused largely on public safety for the growing residential areas east of Bismarck, the second in Gwinner focused more on the effects — positive and negative — to farmers.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeff Beach
4. North Dakota House kills remaining CO2 pipeline bills
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
The North Dakota House of Representatives on Tuesday killed the remaining bills proposed by a state lawmaker seeking to bolster private property rights in connection with carbon dioxide pipelines.
Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, brought several bills dealing with CO2 pipelines and eminent domain -- the seizure of private property rights against a landowner's wishes -- in response to Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline that is being reviewed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
Senate Bill 2251 failed in a 46-46 vote. It sought to require survey crews to get written consent from landowners or a court order before entering their property. The bill needed 48 votes to pass.
Rep. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, said preliminary surveys result in minimal intrusion, and no private property rights are taken, with no damage to property. The bill also might result in expensive and lengthy court delays during a short construction season, he said.
Supporters said the bill responds to landowners' concerns and would strengthen their property rights.
Senate Bill 2313 failed 40-51. It was for an optional interim 2023-24 legislative study of "fair and just compensation in all eminent domain proceedings."
Eminent domain involves taking private property for use even if a landowner opposes such an action, but the landowner is still compensated.
5. North Dakota Senate advances bill for transparency of lawmaker-landlords
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
North Dakota lawmakers are advancing transparency requirements for who is leasing buildings to the state government.
The bill is tied to the issue of lawmakers who are landlords to the state, notably a Bismarck-area representative who co-owns a building leased by the late attorney general and involved in a construction cost overrun uncovered last year.
The North Dakota Senate on Tuesday passed House Bill 1288 by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, in a 46-1 vote with no discussion.
The state House of Representatives last month passed the bill, 87-3. The bill goes back to the House for concurrence on the Senate amendments.
The bill would require state leases and rental agreements to list owners with an interest of 10% or more in the leased property, as well as owners of state-contracted property management companies with an interest of 10% of more.
Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, said the amendments add "sunshine requirements" of the bidding process for projects using public funds, including advertising requirements and acceptance of "the lowest responsible bidder."
"We found a couple sections of code where there was ability for projects to happen using public funds but not having to follow these two sunshine requirements," Roers told the Senate.
Another amendment also does not require the disclosure of a third-party property manager, or one hired by the building owner, not the state.