McFeely: Hope among the insanity of ND legislature

A couple of bills introduced quietly would help feed students in public schools

North Dakota Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, has been the leader on several bills involving culture wars in this yeaer's session of the state legislature.
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

FARGO — If it looks like North Dakota's Republican legislative super-majority is trying to make the state a backwater advertisement for kid-hatin', book-burnin', drag-bannin' and gun-totin', well, it must be January of an odd-numbered year.

The insanity of right-wing bills has morphed from bug to feature, with no bottom in sight. North Dakota families need child care, so the obvious solution is to punch LGBTQ kids in the stomach.

The state that professes it wants young families to move here keeps doing everything it can remake itself into a cold Mississippi. Such is the danger of legislating via Fox News and the MAGA pulpit, neither of which has met a vulnerable person they couldn't demonize.

North Dakota is getting tons of national news coverage for its efforts, which surely makes Gov. Doug Burgum happy. His "Find the Good Life" marketing campaign has attracted a grand total of nine (9) people to the state thus far at a cost of millions, a poor ROI. If a few dozen modern-day Gordon Kahls move here, the GOP will happier than a Craig Cobb in Leith and it won't cost a cent.

Yet there is hope.


More on the N.D. legislature
“I want to see these legislators defend having assault rifles across from schools (in Fargo),” Commissioner John Strand said. "I want to see them defend this, and I don’t think it's defensible.”
Several bills relating to transgender youth and adults were heard Tuesday, Jan. 24, before the House Human Services Committee.
"Sadly, we're getting the government we deserve."
The proposals would expand the right to carry a hidden weapon on college campuses and in public buildings.
The bills continue a nationwide trend that pervaded the 2021 Legislature, which handled more than 40 election-related bills

Buried among the pages of bigotry in Bismarck are a couple of bills that might make North Dakota a better place to live for kids and families.

HB 1491 would provide school lunch at no cost for all public school students in the state.

HB 1494 is an anti-lunch shaming bill, requiring school districts to adopt policies for handling student debt for unpaid meals.

Both have bipartisan sponsorship.

The bills received committee hearings Monday, so we'll soon know better know the direction they might take.

They did not receive nearly the publicity of the culture-war bills. "Republicans want to ban drag shows" is a hotter radio topic than "Bill would feed kids."

HB 1491 calls for state money to be set aside that can be given as grants to school districts, with the goal of assuring every student gets a hot meal at school. Kids with food in their bellies — heck, all humans with food in their bellies — learn better and behave better. It's that simple.

HB1494 would assure schools couldn't make a spectacle of a student who had an unpaid meal balance (by, say, giving them a cold cheese sandwich instead of the regular hot meal), or those who receive a free or reduced-priced meal.


Schools also couldn't keep a kid out of activities or field trips, or make them work off the meal debt, if they had an unpaid balance.

It all seems basic, particularly for a state sitting on billions of oil dollars, but the conservative culture warriors in North Dakota seem far more interested in punishing children than lending a hand up.

And it would make the state more attractive to young families, regardless of their income.

Now imagine if the state did something serious to take care of the child-care shortage and the child-care worker shortage.

It might just be enough to keep North Dakota out of Mississippi territory for the time being.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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