The Arc of Bismarck tracks, monitors and testifies on a number of disability related issues during the legislative session and in the interim. Below is the recap from the 2015 legislative session.
The Arc of Bismarck’s 2015 Advocacy Platform 64th Legislative Assembly
HB 1018 Dept. of Commerce budget; grant for Special Olympics to host national competition. At the time the budget was submitted, Fargo was among the contenders to be the host city of a national Special Olympics competition. The Department of Commerce was seeking funding to assist in the event that Fargo was selected. Fargo was not selected as the host city, so the money was removed from the budget.
HB 1050 Money for DHS to establish grants for volunteer-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities. This bill would have appropriated $350,000 to DHS to establish a new granting system for organizations that provide volunteer-based services to the aforementioned populations. The appropriation would have included one FTE to DHS, which legislators were not keen on. The bill received a Do Not Pass recommendation from the Human Services Committee and failed on the House floor.
HB 1108 Changes DHS code to PFL, referencing individuals with developmental disabilities. This bill was introduced at the request of the Department of Human Services to continue the changes in Century Code to People First language. This bill changes statutory references to developmentally disabled persons” to “individual with a developmental disability” or “individuals with developmental disabilities”.The bill received unanimous support in both chambers and flew through with a favorable result.
HB 1130 Tax exemption for donated vehicles for individuals who need transportation to become part of workforce. As transportation continues to be a barrier to employment for people with disabilities, this bill was added to the tracking grid. It was explained that only one organization in the state of North Dakota would currently be eligible for the tax exemption in discussion. This organization currently donates (no profit) vehicles to individuals who need transportation assistance to become part of the workforce. Passed.
HB 1190 Sales tax exemption for gross receipts for educational, charitable, and religious activities. This bill would have removed a part of the code, providing additional tax exemptions for purposes as described. Testimony in favor of the bill came from private schools and universities. The fiscal note indicated a reduction of approximately $4 million to general fund revenues. Failed in the House.
HB 1191 Service or assistance animals in rental dwelling units. This bill would create a new section of code that would define the conditions under which individuals with disabilities who require a service animal as an accommodation could rent a dwelling. The bill (now law) is in conflict with the Fair Housing Act in that it maintains supporting documentation of the need for a service animal come from a physician. An amendment was added to remove language that would have allowed a peer support or non-medical specialist to provide the necessary documentation. There was language added at the end that said no documentation would be needed if the disability was obvious or known by the landlord. This obfuscates the language in the Fair Housing Act and could give landlords the impression that they do not have to accept documentation from a peer group of other expert as outlined in the FHA. Passed.
HB 1200 State-facilitated retirement program for NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) with fewer than 100 employees.This bill would have expanded retirement savings options for small NGOs through a retirement program facilitated by the state of North Dakota. Committee members were concerned that the public sector would be competing with the private sector in offering retirement, something the state and legislators overwhelmingly opposed. Failed in the House.
HB 1205 Free and reduced tuition for dependents of veterans. Dependents of ND veterans who have a 100% disability rating or were killed in action are currently eligible under the law to attend ND institutions of high education for free. HB 1205 was introduced to include dependents of veterans who had between a 50-100% disability rating to be eligible for tuition reductions at ND higher education institutions at a rate equivalent to the disability rating. For example, if a veteran’s disability rating was 50%, his/her dependent could attend a ND college or university for half (50%) of the institution’s tuition rate. The bill was amended to change the eligible disability rating to between 75-100%. Failed in the House.
HB 1276 Individual income tax credit for donations to nonprofits. This bill would have allowed individuals to claim an income tax deduction of up to $250 for an individual or $500 for a married couple annually for a donation made to nonprofits. The fiscal note estimated a reduction in general fund revenue for the 2015-17 biennium of approximately $140 million. Legislators did not like the idea of getting an income tax deduction for putting money in the offering plate on Sunday. Bill failed in the House.
HB 1278 Sales and use tax exemptions for purchases by nonprofits. This bill was estimated to reduce revenue by $26.3 billion in the next biennium and expanded tax exemptions for certain nonprofit structures. Failed in the House.
HB 1280 Interim study of the potential to reorganize/restructure DHS. This bill was introduced by Representative Fehr from Dickinson and his original idea was to reorganize the human service centers. The bill as written would actually have provided for a legislative management study in the interim to look at the feasibility and options for reorganizing the department of human services to better serve individuals with behavioral and mental health needs, and address the mental health crisis in ND. It looks like it came out of the Schulte report, but according the Representative Fehr in testimony, he had the idea before the report came out. It’s actually pretty good language and perhaps we haven’t seen the last of this idea. Failed in the Senate.
HB 1327 Sales and use tax exemption for nonprofit thrift store sales. This bill would have eliminated sales tax at nonprofit thrift stores. The Arc testified on this bill at the request of the prime sponsor. This bill would have addressed the issue of double taxation, as used merchandise which has been donated to a thrift store was taxed when it was purchased new. It also would have helped low-income individuals and people with disabilities who regularly shop at thrift stores and typically have much lower incomes. The bill did not get a recommendation from the committee, as committee members were split 7-7 on the bill. This bill has been submitted in several sessions and we hope it will be again. Failed in the House.
HB 1366 Bill of rights for children with hearing impairments. This bill would enact a new section of code to create a bill of rights for children with hearing impairments. Through this bill, children with hearing impairments would be guaranteed some basic rights including assessments and screening, full educational opportunities, assistive technology and others. It was pointed out in committee that these things are already guaranteed in law under the ADA. However, the additional support of our legislature would give leverage to those individuals who need it. Language in this bill was added to give additional responsibility to The School for the Deaf to provide support to rural schools. Passed.
HB 1373 ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act implementation in ND. This bill would set up an ABLE account program through the Bank of North Dakota. The ABLE Act is a federal law that was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2014. A designated beneficiary of an ABLE account must be a person with a disability and account funds may only be used for qualified disability expenses, such as assistive technology, accommodations, housing, job training, etc. Anyone is able to make contributions to an individual’s tax-free savings ABLE account. Up to $100,000 can be put into an individual’s ABLE account without affecting the individual’s eligibility for disability programs such as SSI and Medicaid. Pam Kolling from The Arc of Dickinson testified in favor of this bill. Passed.
HB 1411 Money for grants to organizations that provide training and support to people with disabilities. This bill would have appropriated $100,000 to the Department of Labor and Human Rights to offer grants to self-advocacy associations. Self-Advocacy Solutions in Grand Forks was the organization spearheading this effort. The Department didnâ€™t want to have to administer the grant program and the bill received little support. Failed in the House.
HCR 3049 Study on employment restrictions in public assistance program.This interim study would look at employed individuals who receive public assistance. Many people with disabilities put themselves at risk of losing some essential public assistance, such as housing vouchers and food stamps, if their income reaches a certain threshold, even though that threshold is often at or below the poverty level. The resolution was brought to the committee by Association of Retailers and the Hospitality Association. They struggle to find workers to fill jobs and some of their best workers can only work 20 hours a week. Recognizing that some people with disabilities will never be able to work full time, they wanted an interim study to see if some of the restrictions could be relaxed so that the workers who wanted more hours could get them without penalty. Adopted. (Goes to Legislative Management)
SB 2012 DHS Budget. The Arc followed the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Developmental Disabilities (DD), and Life Skills and Transition Center (LSTC) portions of the DHS budget. Testimony was offered on the VR and LSTC section. Just to hit a few of the high points.
Vocational Rehabilitation – We presented some concerns that people with disabilities deserve minimum wage, that perhaps VR could make better use of new employment techniques such as job carve-outs, and that there are too many people falling through the cracks. The budget for VR is basically level from the last biennium.
Life Skills and Transition Center – There was a lot of discussion about the Center having 481 employees for 85 residents. The Arc testimony was to encourage a renewed commitment to moving all of the residents into their home communities and dissolving this institution for good. There is money in the budget for heating plant upgrades, window replacement, equipment, and extraordinary repairs. ($1.94 million) There is authority to sell the PrairieView building for a dollar to a non-profit in Grafton. There is also a study that replaces SB 2041 discussed below. The study will look for the most efficient use of the LSTC property, potential to transfer residents to the state hospital or community settings, and potential alternative uses for the campus and buildings.
There is $150,000 for leisure, recreational and education programs for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. This replaces SB 2218 below and will be split between facilities in Grand Forks and Fargo. It is our hope that this kind of program can eventually be expanded statewide. Even after the tremendous impact of the Schulte report last interim, behavior health did not get the attention it deserved. There was some concern that the DD funding would not be sufficient to handle caseload, so there is authority for DHS to hire temporary staff if the ratio requirement in administrative code can’t be met. They also have authority to just change the code to make the ratio fit.
SB 2013 DPI Budget; School for the Deaf & School for the Blind. The Arc followed the budgets for the School for the Deaf and School for the Blind specifically. Both schools requested little changes to the budget, except for an additional staff member at ND Vision Services to cover the western part of the state where the need is higher. This position was not funded by the Senate. School for the Deaf received an additional $1.3 million including one additional FTE and School for the Blind received an increase slightly under $600,000.
SB 2041 DHS & Dept. of Corrections master plan for State Hospital and James River Correctional Center. This bill would appropriate $125,000 to study the potential of a master plan to address the potential sale, consolidation, or transfer of state owned grounds and facilities in Jamestown (State Hospital and James River Correctional Center). An amendment was approved in Senate Appropriations to add the LSTC to the study. Failed in the Senate.
SB 2044 TBI flex fund program. This bill would have established a flex fund to be used by ND residents with a TBI for services associated with the disability. The appropriation would have been for $250,000. Failed in the Senate.
SB 2073 Training, consultation, and assistance provided by Dept. of Corrections to DHS. The bill address a section of code that requires an interagency agreement between the James River Correctional Center and the State Hospital. The agreement allows for correctional center staff to assist State Hospital staff in crisis situations that require de-escalation of patients. There was opposition to the bill from advocacy organizations who argued that State Hospital staff should have sufficient training in de-escalation techniques in a manner appropriate for the residents. Correctional center staff, often dressed in correctional uniforms, would be frightening for the residents and that level of response shouldn’t be required. Concern was expressed that in some cases, hospital patients who are receiving treatment are criminalized due to the correctional officers being called in. Passed.
SB 2108 Special education services and eligibility.While this bill did address special education, the main reason this bill failed was because of the change in dates for kindergarten enrollment and compulsory attendance changes. Failed in Senate.
SB 2115 Tax assessment and compensation to retailers for administrative expenses.This bill puts into law a common practice used by the tax commissioner. For businesses that have dissolved and have unpaid sales tax, the tax commissioner is authorized to send a final bill to the business using the best knowledge and research available to determine the amount of sales tax owed. This bill also clarified the appeals process for businesses in this situation. Passed.
SB 2206 DHS assumes certain costs (control) of county social service programs, includes monthly payments to people with disabilities.This bill received overwhelming support from legislators, advocacy groups, counties, etc., and would require that DHS take control of some certain programs that are currently the responsibility of the counties. This bill was introduced by the governor as a way to alleviate property taxes, as counties depend on property taxes to fund the social service programs in question. This went through several conference committee meetings to ensure that the savings to the counties will really be passed on to property owners and that counties retain some control of staffing and other increases when needed. Passed.
SB 2218 Appropriate $300,000 to DHS for contracting services for education, leisure and recreational activities for individuals with I/DD. As amended by the Senate, the bill would now allocate $100,000 for recreational centers for people with disabilities. Currently, there are only two recreation centers located in the state â€“ one in Grand Forks and the other in Fargo. Each center would receive $25,000 per year of the biennium to help them continue in their current operations. The Arc Upper Valley and The Arc of Cass County provided testimony in support of this bill in the House Human Services Committee hearing. Failed in the House. (See 2012)
SB 2223 Sales and use tax exemption for clothing purchases.This bill would have removed sales tax from clothing purchases in the state of North Dakota, as the bill sponsor argued that online retailers and neighboring non-sales tax states make it difficult to ND clothing retails to compete. Failed in Senate.
SB 2234 Down syndrome and eligibility for medical assistance.This bill would have added Down syndrome to the list of qualified diagnoses for the DD waiver. Currently, approximately eight children with Down syndrome do not qualify for the DD waiver because of imperfect testing mechanisms and eligibility determination practices. The Senate turned this bill into a DHS study, although the issue was already studied in the previous interim by DHS. The results of the last DHS study were inconclusive; the department could not quantify the number of children affected, nor could they quantify the fiscal impact of adding the children to the waiver. Passed.
SB 2289 $500,000 to DHS for assistive technology services.The Senate reduced the appropriation to $160,000 to reflect the reduction in federal funding. The additional requested money would have allowed IPAT to expand their services, focusing on the needs in western North Dakota. Passed.
SB 2317 Performance audit of State Hospital by 6/30/17.This bill would have been a legislative mandate to conduct a performance audit of the State Hospital. Bill sponsors felt that because the current superintendent of the institution is retiring in the summer of 2015, this would be an appropriate time to conduct a performance audit. DHS explained that because of hospital accreditation standards, the State Hospital has many checks and balances in place to comply with the standards. Failed in Senate.
SB 2358 DHS convey LSTC property no longer needed for mission of the center.
This bill would give DHS the ability to sell off some of the property/buildings of the LSTC that are no longer being used for the functional activities of the center. Failed in House. (See 2012 regarding PrairieView building)
SCR 4006 Arc of ND bill Study the impact of the marriage penalty in SSI under the Social Security Act.
The marriage penalty in SSI has proven to be a barrier to marriage for many people with disabilities. Individuals on SSI who are married experience a significant reduction in benefits because their spouse’s income is used in determining eligibility, forcing some couples to forgo their dreams of marriage or be faced with potentially living in poverty. This study would quantify the impact for North Dakotans, look at the cost of living and what poverty means in North Dakota, and research what other states have done about the issue. House Political Subs added an amendment to include the penalty to retirees in Social Security. Adopted. (Goes to Legislative Management)
SB 4018 Study the use of seclusion and restraints in school.
This study would look at how seclusion and restraints are used in public schools. Currently, there is no mandated reporting requirement for seclusion and restraint. Adopted. (Goes to Legislative Management)