North Dakota’s Senate Condones Pettiness

SB 2252, a bill to bring North Dakota’s equal housing laws in line with national norms, is being henpecked to death in the Senate; the latest effort of which is a hostile amendment to gut its protections for older people and keeping your landlord out of your bedroom

Since “discrimination” isn’t a word that really registers with North Dakotans.  Let me tell you another word you might be familiar with — Pettiness.

If you’re a landlord and you get a stick in your craw about certain “types” of people, regardless of their clean background, then you’re a petty type of person.  You don’t actually care about the fundamentally neutral nature of your business — taking money for providing housing — you’re on some half-cocked mission to engineer society toward whatever whim you’re presently fancying.  In short, you’re petty and unprofessional.

Opposing SB 2252 is an endorsement of dilettantes with an axe to grind.  North Dakota deserves better.

The taps run dry early in Bismarck

It’s not quite mid-February and we’re past the point where the North Dakota Legislature is going to spend any money on new ideas. This is one of the odd things that happen when you have a bicameral legislature running on a severe time constraint. There’s two quick fixes that could patch the system overnight: an end to bicameralism, and better scheduling of the 80-day biennial session.

Bicameralism ties up bills in needless red tape, and invites corrupt machinations in conference committees. Merging the House and Senate into a 140-member Senate modelled on Nebraska would be a way to ensure there’s still room for everyone, while doubling the productive working time each session. You’d think that merging the House and Senate might take a Constitutional amendment or something — but not necessarily. It could be accomplished without such difficulty just by changing the house rules so that the houses sit together and vote on bills simultaneously.

Time management could be improved as well. Floor sessions in the House and Senate rarely are a lengthy affair; condensing five days of business into one or two days a week would turn them into something closer to a full days’ work, leaving the rest of the week for committee sessions, constituency meetings, and bill drafting. Scheduled judiciously, North Dakota could have an active, responsive legislature ready to get things done 75% of the time, a fair sight better than the present situation, meeting actively for less than 16% of the biennium, with interim committee meetings maybe able to tack on an extra few points, depending on how you’d count it.

Hoeven is living in 1965

I wrote about one bit of nuclear technology yesterday, so it’s timely that Senator Hoeven gave comments about the future of nuclear weapons recently.  Hoeven gave a very stay-the-course speech on the topic, not opposing New START per se, but definitely advocating minimal, if any, arms reductions.

Nuclear weapons are a significant budget item for North Dakota.  The nuclear weapons program brings thousands of people and millions of dollars to North Dakota that would never otherwise visit.  But nuclear weapons still happen to be the most dangerous invention mankind has ever developed. Within just the borders of our state, they have been seriously mishandled on numerous occasions, and missile bunkers are not infrequently targeted by protestors and vandals.

Most countries that possess nuclear weapons prefer submarine-launched missiles. Modern submarines are mobile and nearly undetectable, qualities that bolster their effectiveness as deterrents without even necessarily requiring hair-trigger readiness.  In contrast, fixed air bases and missile fields, such as Minot Air Force Base, are sitting ducks.  North Dakota is only host to nuclear weapons because in the madness of the Cold War, we were considered expendable. Today, that sentiment is absolutely unacceptable.

The nuclear “triad” is a pork barrel project, and even though we benefit year-on-year, North Dakotans should remember that the money comes with a heavy price.

Thorium Thursday in Bismarck

Thorium Map

Thorium concentrations in North America

Maybe you’ve heard of thorium? The not-so-new nuclear fuel has been making a comeback in energy-nerd circles lately

A handful of state legislators apparently just got the memo on thorium.  They also seem to think it’s a good idea to try to exclude it from federal environmental law, which is wrongheaded at best.

Well, It’s not a bad idea to use thorium as a nuclear fuel. It is a bad idea to pretend that it is possessed of fantastical qualities that make it less toxic than uranium and plutonium.  They are all heavy metals, after all.

Now I am definitely in favour of nuclear power.  In a state that simply burned off 1.8 million tons of natural gas last year, the need for energy alternatives is clear.  But as it stands right now, HB 1190 would do little but continue the legislature’s quixotic feud with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Shirvani’s golden parachute

Looks like Chancellor Shirvani’s days at the SBHE are numbered. I was almost curious for a while there, to see if his three-tier plan might clean up some of the structural issues with the NDUS, or if it was just another unpleasant set of hoops for students to jump through.

But at least we’re paying his salary through his entire contract term! Because getting paid to waste everyone’s time is totally cool if you make six figures of public money.

Even getting a new chancellor doesn’t really solve anything. There’s no sensibility in the SBHE as it presently exists. Whatever legal framework supposedly exists for the SBHE, it has no clear purpose or effect. All I see is a bunch of egos, all of whom want to be in charge, but don’t want to be responsible.

More bad executive housing ideas

There’s a lot of budget items to consider this year, but near the bottom of the list ought to be publicly-financed luxuries for individual public officers.  Things that serve only one person are worthless compared to infrastructure and services available to all.  So why is HB1379 proposing to build a $6 million mansion for the governor? We’ll see on Thursday morning what the Legislature really thinks of this idea.

The governor already has a mansion, and it was remodelled in 2000, so don’t give me that “But… it’s sixty years old!” business.  It is also within walking distance of the Capitol, wherein I’m sure it’s more than possible to host the handful of ridiculously grandiose banquets that cannot possibly fit into the present mansion.

Shirvani wants private apartment at UND

There’s a scandal breaking today; it seems the North Dakota University System is unilaterally altering construction plans for a new building at the University of North Dakota.  Originally designed to house IT staff (UND has no central office space for tech support workers), it’s now been altered to function as something else entirely.

Effectively, Chancellor Shirvani’s plan is to turn a working space — offices for 24+ IT workers — into an un-working space, a private, reserved meeting area for the sole, part-time use of not UND, but the NDUS.  The need for a kitchenette is questionable as well.  Campus catering services should be more than adequate for meetings.  The question must be asked – is Shirvani planning to use this $11 million building as a private apartment?  Because I think that’s an entire order of magnitude over the last housing scandal, where UND and NDSU competed to be the winner in a $1 million game of Most Excessive Presidential Mansion.

At the risk of making an understatement, it’s not hard to find a meeting space at the University of North Dakota.  Just off the top of my head, I can rattle off at least three that are “closed” to the public — or even campus groups — that paid to have them built, and empty for something north of 80% of the working week.  If the Chancellor of the North Dakota University System can’t book these rooms, who can?

Wilkerson Hall — its Conference Room is reserved for “private use” of UND Housing Office, whose actual offices are actually up Stanford Road. It’s also home to the Wilkerson Hall Dining Center, which is gigantic, immediately adjacent to the campus’s largest kitchen, and has a large space easily divided off from the main dining room.

Jodsaas Center, Harrington Hall — nominally a business-engineering cooperation zone, it’s actually used as the private empire of the handful of staff who turn up from time to time.  Bonus:  It’s actually built around the hallway that’s the best path from the Memorial Union to the Engineering Department, so naturally the doors are locked 24/7.

Gorecki Alumni Center — another expensive recent addition to campus, apparently only used for a handful of Alumni Association events.  In fact, Gorecki is basically custom-built to be just the sort of the high-falooting meeting space Shirvani seems to be in the mood for.