AARP North Dakota took “Around the Legislature in 80 Days” on the road the last two weeks of May to provide members with a wrap-up of the state legislature’s longest session in the history of the state. The session adjourned just two hours shy of an 80-day constitutional limit.
With the help of 64 volunteers (Legislative Buddies), 19 of the 25 bills AARP supported were passed. AARP publicly opposed 10 bills, four of which were defeated.
AARP’s biggest win was the expansion of Medicaid as provided for in the Affordable Care Act. It was not an easy lift since the legislature had already turned back other state options for ACA implementation during a 2011 special session. However, the governor supported expansion and included it in the budget he proposed to the legislature. AARP coordinated a coalition of nearly 30 organizations all pushing for expansion. As a result, beginning in 2014, up to 32,000 uninsured low-income North Dakotans will have access to health coverage, including more than 4,300 people who are between the ages of 50 and 64.
In 2012, AARP was part of a coalition that helped defeat a ballot measure that would have eliminated property taxes in the state. During the debate, coalition members and state policymakers promised to deliver property tax relief during the 2013 legislative session.
Legislators agreed to nearly $860 million in direct property tax cuts for all property owners by picking up a much larger share of local school funding and through a 12 percent state-paid property tax credit against all property.
AARP led the drive for a major expansion of the Homestead Property Tax Credit for people 65 and older and homeowners of any age with a disability. This tax credit has become even more critical for homeowners on fixed incomes because soaring home values caused by the state’s oil boom are also resulting in bigger property tax bills.
The legislation raises the income brackets so that individuals with incomes under $22,000 (current law is $18,000) qualify for up to 100 percent of relief. Those with incomes up to $42,000 (currently $26,000) will qualify for some relief as well. The Homestead Tax Credit raises the asset test to $500,000, including home value. This tax credit was also expanded for disabled veterans of any age.
In-Home Care/Senior Services
The legislature increased support for programs and services to help older North Dakotans remain in their homes as they age by increases in funding for in-home care services as well as home-delivered and congregate meal programs.
A successful initiative called PACE (Program for the All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) will also be expanding. The PACE program has been in the Bismarck and Dickinson regions assisting individuals who are nursing home eligible to remain living safely in their homes. Besides health services, PACE also provides in-home personal services.
Legislators also agreed to raise the state match for county senior services. These funds provide senior services in local communities like senior meals, outreach, and other senior programming.
The 2013 legislature began to address public guardianship needs in the state, including funds to establish a consistent statewide public guardianship system and training for public guardians. North Dakota has studied the need for increased guardianship services for vulnerable adults and seniors repeatedly over the last 20 years. In 2011, the legislature passed a bill calling for yet another study. The national expert who conducted the latest study made a number of recommendations to improve guardianship. Two key recommendations came from the study: providing consistency in the appointment of guardians, and ensuring adequate guardianship coverage.
The legislature also strengthened penalties against individuals who abuse vulnerable adults or the elderly. If the value of exploited funds, assets, or property exceeds $1,000, it is a felony. Anything less than $1,000 is a class A misdemeanor.
AARP successfully defeated an amendment to an anti-discrimination bill that would have weakened North Dakota’s age discrimination statutes.
North Dakota’s Housing Incentive Fund, created during the 2011 session of the legislature, has been the state’s main effort to address affordable housing needs of low- and moderate-income North Dakotans. During the 2013 session, legislators increased funding for the program from $15 million to $35.4 million.
With the additional funding, legislators placed the priority for use of the fund on multi-family housing for “essential service workers,” especially those living in oil-impacted areas. Essential service workers are people employed by a city, county, school district, medical or long-term care facility, or by the state of North Dakota.
Similar to efforts in 2011, legislation was introduced to require all new public employees to enter a defined contribution retirement plan rather than the current defined benefit plan. AARP and some other groups opposed the legislation, resulting in some amendments to the bill. As passed, new public employees will have the option to join either the defined benefit or defined contribution plan. Current employees will remain in the defined benefit plan.
It All Begins Again
Between now and the 2015 session of the North Dakota Legislature, interim committees will meet to discuss issues and draft legislation for the 2015 Legislature. We will be watching for studies related to health care, pensions, long-term care, and other issues of importance to older North Dakotans. We will continue to fight on issues that matter to you and your family.
If you are interested in staying informed, or becoming more involved as a volunteer advocate, please contact Associate State Director for Advocacy Josh Askvig at the AARP North Dakota office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-355-3642.