Flood threats are on everyone's mind, and although we can feel pretty safe in West Fargo, protected by Sheyenne Diversion, there is something that we all should do. It is important to contact our homeowners' insurance agents to inquire about purchasing flood insurance. Even though we're currently out of the 100-year flood plain, if the feds change the flood plain map, which is highly likely, and we end up with a change in the status of our homes, the flood insurance premiums will be quite expensive. Those homeowners who have been purchasing flood insurance at the much lower out-of-flood-plain rates will, in most cases, be "grandfathered" in and the low premiums will continue not only for the current homeowner, but can be transferred to a future owner. The insurance agents are the experts, so discuss this more fully with them, but it is worth considering as a long-term money saving move. Another thing we ought to do is help our neighbors who will be needing sandbag protection this spring. It takes many hands to win the flood fight, and there are many ways to help.
HB 1353 has gotten lots of attention; it would take much of the recent tobacco settlement money and invest it at the UND Medical School to expand the facilities and educate more healthcare professionals. The important thing to me about this bill is that it enables legislators to get answers from the Tobacco Prevention and Control Executive Committee about the way the money is spent. The initiated measure which was on the ballot was very poorly worded and authorized spending all of the most recent tobacco money on prevention and cessation with no accountability for this group. The spending of about $118 million in tobacco funds over the next several years is managed by three people who are not elected and who are not accountable to anyone. Your legislators are elected to be good stewards of taxpayers' money. We appropriate every dollar through budgets and state agencies report how they use the budgeted funds. However, no such procedure is in place for these tobacco funds. The best way to find out what has been happening since the initiated measure passed is to include the program in a bill. The current N.D. budget includes $22.5 million for tobacco prevention programs, $12.9 million of which was spent by the TPCEC. This in a state of 670,000 people.
Whether or not HB 1353 passes and the money is used to help meet the need for healthcare professionals, we at least will have had the opportunity to hear how the tobacco settlement money has been spent.
This issue points out the striking difference between a ballot measure and the legislative process. If this had been in a bill, it would have had a committee hearing in the house of origin, including testimony and discussion. The bill would have been voted on by the first house and, if passed, moved to the second house for another hearing and discussion. Amendments would have been possible to improve it during that process. If the two houses had different versions, a conference committee would have worked to come up with an alternative acceptable to both houses. If both houses pass that version, it would go to the governor who can sign the bill, veto it, or let it take effect without his signature. With a ballot measure, the only choice is voting "yes" or "no".
Your legislators are easy to contact. E-mail is the easiest way for reaching us, but we can receive phone messages through the toll free number 1-888-ND-LEGIS where a message can be left: Senator Judy Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org, 282-6512; Rep. Kim Koppelman, email@example.com, 282-9267; Rep. Alon Wieland, firstname.lastname@example.org, 282-9470.