2019 Legislature – Advocacy Activity

2/14/2019

This has been a slow week so far at the 2019 legislature. We can report that the Senate Appropriations sub-committee working on the budget for the Department of Human Services has approved funding for the Home and Community Bases Services items we have been supporting. These ideas increase access to services that help people stay at home for as long as possible. A program called Service Payments for the Elderly and Disables (SPED) was specifically helped by reducing criteria for people to qualify for the state funded help.

The CARE Act is scheduled to reach the Senate floor on Friday!

2/8/2019

Not a bad day at the capitol for AARP! Early this morning a representative of the North Dakota Hospital Association and an advocacy director with AARP delivered a COMPROMISE on the CARE Act to the chair of the Senate Human Services. We have worked together for a couple of weeks coming up with a version both organizations can support. The committee will vote on it Monday!

Also, on the House floor this afternoon representatives overwhelmingly passed (63-24) a repeal of the state tax on Social Security (House Bill 1174). Rep. Larry Bellew sponsored the bill and gave a passionate, well researched plea on the House floor that certainly got the attention of his colleagues. We also think they were convinced because of YOU! Thanks to the hundreds of AARP members who sent messages to their representatives in support of the repeal. Off to the Senate! The fight over there might be tough so we’ll need all of you to engage in the second half.

2/6/2019

The House Human Services Committee gave an 8-5 ‘do pass’ recommendation to a bill that would allow dental therapists to practice in the state. It’s a big step in getting this bill passed. AARP has been working with other groups to expand access to dental care across the state, especially in rural areas. In states where dental therapists are allowed to practice wait times, travel distance and even cost of services have decreased. There is also thought that dental therapist care might be more willing to accept Medicaid (which many dentists do not accept). The bill should be heard on the House floor sometime next week.

A bill that would allow a concept called Supported Decision Making (House Bill 1378) passed the ND House of Representatives 86-6. The bill would allow adults with disabilities to appoint a supported decision maker to help them make important decisions. It’s meant to be a less restrictive approach than having a guardian appointed. AARP has been watching the bill and served on a coalition that developed the bill language.

2/5/2019

The North Dakota Senate unanimously defeated Senate Bill 2349 – commonly known as the provider tax. This is the bill that taxes nursing homes, then the nursing home passes the cost along to residents.

The ND House of Representatives defeated a bill  that would have required employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid family leave (HB 1509). The vote was 75-17 against. AARP supported the bill, although even the bill sponsor indicated this session’s effort was to ‘start the conversation.’ Part of the issue for legislators on the committee (who gave the bill a 9-3 ‘do not pass’ recommendation) was the cost to the state associated with the cost to administer the program. The bill itself asks businesses and individuals to pay into a fund, much like insurance, out of which people could use the money when a serious illness or injury faces them or their close family members.

The bill sponsor (Rep. Karla Rose Hanson) urged legislators to consider how this program will help families and also address the state’s work force challenges.

2/4/2019

The North Dakota House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 1033 Monday. The bill will start a pilot program for private entities to provide case management services. It’s a bill AARP supports because it has the potential to expand Home and Community Based Services. When case loads get too heavy for county social services, independent agencies have the ability to offer help. This bill will allow the state to see how that will work.

There was some floor discussion. Rep. Alisa Mitskog requested that a report be made available after the pilot is over in two years. House Human Services Committee Chairman Rep. Robin Weisz said the report is unnecessary because the department will either find it successful or not. This bill now heads to the Senate.

2/1/2019

Things slowed down a tad toward the end of this week. It’s been nice to catch our breath. We expected a vote on House Bill 1033 Friday, but representatives didn’t quite get there. It is the second bill on the schedule for Monday. This is one of the bills to enhance Home and Community Based Services in the state and one we are carefully monitoring. It received a very encouraging 12-0 ‘do pass’ from the House Human Serviced Committee.

We also expected to discuss the continuation of Medicaid Expansion in the state with the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning. That hearing went long too and that discussion was also pushed back to Monday.

It’s 40 degrees in Bismarck. Plus, some sun. Time for us to go have some fun!!!

1/29/2019

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee heard a bill that has received a bit of press lately. The bill would place a tax on long term care providers (nursing homes) that they would then pass along to residents. It’s an effort to help pay for escalating costs and a decrease in state funding. Senate Bill 2349 is supported by the Long Term Care Association and the committee heard testimony from a number of nursing home executives. They all said they would prefer the state give them a 3% inflationary adjustment (versus the 1% offered by the governor) each year in the next biennium – but if they can’t get the raise – the tax is the next best alternative. AARP does not have a stance on this bill.

We’d prefer to focus our attention on Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) that allow North Dakotans to remain in their home as long as possible. And there’s some positive momentum on that front. The House Human Services Committee worked on two bills AARP supports to enhance HCBS in the state – Senate Bills 1032 and 1033. Both received ‘do pass’ recommendations from the committee and should be heard on the floor this week (SB 1032 was amended slightly and needs a floor vote on the amendment first).

1/28/2019

AARP and a number of other groups testified in front of a packed room in support of a bill that would require businesses that employ 50 or more people to offer paid family leave. The bill offers a plan on how employees and employers would contribute to a fund that would support people dealing with serious issues with themselves or family members. The bill is House Bill 1509 and was heard in the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee.

Also, it’s bitterly cold.

1/25/2019

Slow day in terms of committee work – but the floors did some work on bills we worked on. The Senate passed SB 2179 – that’s the one that brings financial institutions into the fold for helping reduce financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. Details below from 1/24.

A bill to better define telemedicine (SB 2094) also passed. AARP wrote a letter of opposition to this bill because it only allowed for telemedicine to be conducted through video. The bill has since been amended and we can now support it.

1/24/2019

The Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee gave a ‘do pass’ recommendation for a bill that asks financial institutions to identify suspicious activity within the accounts of vulnerable adults adding a safeguard against fraud and scams (SB 2179). This bill is now headed to the floor of the Senate. (This bill passed the Senate unanimously – amendments were added to protect financial institutions and to eliminate a strict time frame for reporting – AARP accepts the amendments)

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee attached a 5-1 ‘do NOT pass’ recommendation on SB 2277 – a repeal of the Social Security tax. An identical bill is still alive in the House of Representatives.

Additional news of the day happened outside of the capitol as AARP met with the North Dakota Hospital Association to try to come to a compromise on the CARE Act (SB 2154). This is the bill designed to help family caregivers by asking hospitals to work with caregivers notifying them if their loved one will be discharged and providing some instruction before they return home.

We also began distributing close to 500 petitions signed by people through our online survey.

1/23/2019

The ND House unanimously passed HB 1041, a bill to allow those who qualify for North Dakota’s Homestead Tax Credit to apply for loans from the state to help pay for special assessments.

A bill that would fund North Dakota’s Housing Incentive Fund at a higher level than the governor’s proposal popped up in committee this week (SB 2271). AARP supports the higher level of funding and we also like the bill because it makes sure the priority for housing funded by HIF targets low-to-moderate income residents. The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency administers the fund and provides some excellent testimony. Residents and other stakeholders also showed up to testify. The hearing went long! (This bill has been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee and will be heard on Wednesday, Jan. 30)

1/21/2019

AARP testified for a second Social Security Tax repeal bill (SB 2277), this one on the Senate side. We told the story of how older people, especially those on fixed incomes, need any break they can get. Some committee members were concerned that the break would go to people who don’t need it. We offered to provide information about states that have defined thresholds so the breaks would go to people with moderate incomes.

We also provided testimony in support of a bill to allow dental therapists to operate in the state (HB 1426). It’s a bill we’ve supported for a few sessions now. Our support comes from our desire to allow greater access to oral health care, especially in rural areas and for people who are financially insecure. In states where dental therapist have been allowed to practice wait times, cost and travel distance have decreased for many.

1/18/2019

The Department of Human Services presented its budget requests to the Senate Appropriations Committee on three consecutive days this week (Senate Bill 2012). AARP was front and center on Thursday and Friday supporting the needs of older North Dakotans. Thursday we testified to the committee about the need to continue Medicaid Expansion in the state. The program helps 20,000 North Dakotans receive health insurance, and a large percentage of them are between the ages of 50 and 64 (our members!). AARP North Dakota leads a coalition of about 100 organizations that support the continuation of Medicaid Expansion. If the legislature does not vote to continue Medicaid Expansion, it will sunset this summer.

We also pay close attention to the budgets for Long Term Care and the Aging Services Division (both within the DHS budget). Many of the programs within Aging Services help older North Dakotans remain in their homes. The governor proposed enhancements to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) primarily by allowing more people to qualify. AARP and close to 10 others testified on behalf of the proposals to make HCBS more accessible.

 

 

 

Photo: Aging Services Director Nancy Nikolas-Maier testifies in front of a packed house.

 

1/16/2019

Another big day at the Capitol for some priority bills we’re following. The House Finance and Tax Committee heard testimony on a bill that would eliminate the state tax on Social Security. AARP North Dakota supports the bill and provided testimony in support. North Dakota is only one of three states in the country that taxes Social Security at the full federal level. And one of only 13 states that taxes Social Security at all. The bill sponsor, Rep. Larry Bellew (R – Minot), kicked off the hearing.

Then, we walked across the hall and testified in support of the Housing Incentive Fund (HIF). It’s a program managed by the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency that creates a public/private partnership to build affordable housing across the state. A number of agencies testified in support of the bill including the Housing Finance Agency, Lutheran Social Services, Grand Forks and Minot Housing Authorities and a couple of moving stories from some residents who benefited from a couple of projects. Those are the stories that stick with legislators and really move the needle!

1/15/2019

AARP North Dakota State Director Josh Askvig took the podium in support of the CARE Act (SB 2154). It’s the bill AARP has been advocating for that supports the more than 62,100 family caregivers in the state by asking hospitals to include them in the care by notifying them when their loved one will be coming home and teaching them some of the work they’ll do when they get there. It’s a bill that has no cost to the state.

Forty other states/territories have passed the CARE Act, we’re working to make sure North Dakotans are not left behind.

A half dozen volunteers joined us at the hearing and it was great to have their support during this hearing.

The committee hasn’t schedule a vote yet but we expect it will come in the next couple of week and be ready for a floor vote a day or two afterward.

 

 

1/14/2019

The week started fast and will speed up from there!

We testified in support of Senate Bill 2179 that would allow financial institutions like banks and credit unions to place holds on accounts and provide notification if they suspect fraudulent activity. It’s an added protection against the multi-billion dollar scam industry. A couple of interesting nuggets – millennials fall for scams more often than any other age group, but older people lose more money from the scams. Also, North Dakota ranks last in percentage of the number of scams reported (most likely scams happen here at a similar rate, we just don’t report them as much).

We also paid attention to a hearing on a bill (SB 2124) that would redesign social services across the state breaking things up into zones rather than the county structure that exists presently. The Department of Human Services director told committee members at the hearing that the idea is not to reduce access points, but to increase services. There will be plenty of work on this bill as the session continues and we’ll update you as we learn new things.

1/9/2019

Slow day in committee and on the floor. We did learn that the Department of Human Services Budget will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee the week of Jan. 16. That budget includes important provisions that would start to shift funding toward more Home and Community Based Services.

House Bills 1032 and 1033 were not voted on by the Human Services Committee today – so they’ll have to wait until next week. Thursday and Friday legislators sit on their “B” committees so the House Human Services Committee will not meet again until Monday.

1/8/2019

The big news from the capitol Tuesday is that two bills we are most intently watching have officially been introduced and now have bill numbers. The CARE Act is Senate Bill 2154 and sponsored by Sen. Nichole Poolman (R – Bismarck). We want to publicly thank Sen. Poolman for her work on behalf of the 62,100 family caregivers across the state who are helping their loved ones age at home by providing everything from driving and cooking to changing bandages and managing medicine.  The second bill that dropped was a repeal of the state’s tax on Social Security payments. It is sponsored by Rep. Larry Bellew (R – Minot) and is numbered House Bill 1174.

In committee AARP testified in support of a bill that would reduce the interest on a state loan to help older North Dakotans who qualify pay for special assessments put on property by local governments. The bill would also raise the maximum amount allowed on the loan from six to 15 thousand dollars. This bill, House Bill 1041, is another bill we support because it has the potential to help people remain in their home. We are concerned that sudden, substantial property tax increases – in this case through special assessments – can cause a financial strain for people living on fixed incomes.

On another note, Tuesday was the second official day of the session because it was the first time since Gov. Doug Burgum’s State of the State address that the chambers officially held session and voted on bills.

 

Also, we’d like to encourage you to join our advocacy call which takes place every Friday during the session at 2 p.m. Central Time. Dial (866) 215-3402, then use the conference code 4815771 to join. The call is toll-free and usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.

12/5/2018

Governor Doug Burgum presented his budget for the next biennium to North Dakota legislators on December 5.

Here are some of the highlights, prioritizing issues AARP North Dakota will be working on during this session:

  • Gov. Burgum proposes changes in how social services are delivered in the state. He would like to see the current structure of 47 administrative areas changed to 19. He was quick to emphasize that “touch points” would not change, meaning the current offices in counties would still exist. He insisted that more flexibility in the system is necessary and this is one way to create that.
  • State workers receive a salary and retirement benefit increase in the governor’s proposed budget.
  • $750,000 will go to help solve a health care workers shortage in the state, targeting a shortage of nurses.
  • He proposes a reimbursement increase of one percent per year during the biennium for health care providers.
  • Home and Community Based Services provided by the state see a $6 million increase in the proposed budget and eliminate some of the qualifications needed to receive state assistance. Some of that additional money could go to improve the Aging and Disabilities Resource Link. This is an online resource for people who are looking for services to help them remain in their home. The increase was proposed by the Department of Human Services as an optional budget request.
  • $20 million is proposed to reinvest in the Housing Incentive Fund, which was not funded last biennium and is currently out of money. The fund helps attract developers/builders to invest in low-to-moderate priced housing.
  • Gov. Burgum continues to focus a lot of attention on behavioral health issues and dedicated $19.1 million to increase access to behavioral health care, specifically in the home setting.
  • One issue AARP will not engage in but was interesting to hear, Gov. Burgum proposes $5 million from what the state earns in interest from the Legacy Fund to go into building a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.

The complete budget can be found at the website of the Office of Management and Budget by CLICKING HERE. Pages 167 – 169 outline the budget proposals for the Department of Human Services, an area where AARP North Dakota pays close attention.

Legislators will begin introducing bills between now and the start of the session. One bill we know we will support is called the CARE Act. It’s primary goal is to create a partnership between people who provide unpaid care for their loved ones at home and hospitals. Look for more information on that important bill to come soon.

Finally, we encourage you to check this site often for updates throughout the legislative session. We’ll have multiple updates every week as legislation works its way through the chambers and to the governor’s desk.

 

JOIN OUR WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE UPDATE BY PHONE

Join a weekly conference call during the 2019 legislative session to stay up-to-date on what is happening at the legislature and how you can help us advocate for issues important to North Dakotans 50 and older. The conference call will be held every Friday at 2 p.m. Central Time. Join by phone by dialing toll free at 1-866-215-3402 and enter pass code 4815771.

 

HOW TO MAKE IT OFFICIAL

Below are two ways you can sign up to become an official AARP North Dakota Legislative Volunteer:

AARP ND Legislative Volunteers Brochure – a brochure outlining the AARP ND Legislative Volunteer Program and the registration form to sign up.

Or, email Advocacy Director Mike Chaussee at mchaussee@aarp.org.

 

CAREGIVING – AN AARP NORTH DAKOTA LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY

AARP North Dakota will introduce a bill to provide assistance to the state’s more than 62,100 unpaid family caregivers. We call it the CARE Act.

The CARE Act does three primary things – it includes family caregivers (appointed by patients) in the care, it requires hospitals to attempt to notify the caregiver when their loved one is transferred or discharged, and it asks hospitals to teach the caregivers about the tasks they be asked to perform at home. It’s a no-cost, high reward bill that has passed in 40 states/territories across the U.S.

Here are some helpful websites for research you want to conduct about family caregivers:

 

RESOURCES FOR AARP ADVOCATES

North Dakota State Legislature Website – There is a tremendous amount of access provided by the state. You can access bios and contact information for your legislators (There’s even a clever search tool if you don’t know who they are.), search and read every bill, and download a map of meeting rooms.

If you really want to dig deep into the legislative site, click here for a detailed tutorial to discover how each legislator voted on a bill.

Here’s a civics class refresher on how a bill becomes a law – This is specific to North Dakota where we are unique in that every bill is guaranteed three public exposures. First, every bill is required to have a public hearing in committee. Then, every bill receives a public committee vote before heading to the floor for a public vote of the assembly. If it passes, the bill goes through the same procedure in the other chamber.

Thinking about testifying before a committee? You should! Legislators tell us all the time they appreciate hearing from real people, not just paid lobbyists. So, it’s vital that AARP members and other constituents tell legislators about how bills will affect them. Here are some tips about how to Testify Before a ND Legislative Committee.

Knowing AARP’s stance on an issue can be helpful when you’re preparing to make a call, write a letter, or gathering evidence for your testimony. The following links to AARP resources can help you in your preparation. (Note: This list will change from time to time.)

Long Term Scorecard – This is a comprehensive comparison between states on how they perform when it comes to long-term care for older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers. North Dakota ranks 37th overall (out of 51). The detailed breakout is interesting as the Scorecard measures states in about 25 different areas. North Dakota ranks as low as 50 and as high as two, depending on the indicator. Make sure to click on North Dakota on the map on the front page to see the detailed analysis.

North Dakota Legislative Volunteer Handbook – Handbook of tips and tools to help our advocates be successful.