Legislative update: pharmacy, social host, Internet hunting, divorce

BISMARCK—Chain retailers may not want to think about opening pharmacies in North Dakota just yet.

The House Industry, Business and Labor Committee gave a 10-3 do-not pass recommendation to the idea on Wednesday.

House Bill 1434 deletes wording in North Dakota law that requires pharmacies be majority-owned by pharmacists licensed in the state. This would have allowed retailers like Target and Walmart to open their own pharmacies in the state.

Committee Chairman Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, said he voted against the bill based on testimony that current law serves the state’s residents well.

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, said he sponsored the bill on behalf of more than 40 constituents who want to see the law changed.

This same issue came up during the 2009 Legislature and failed to make it on the 2010 ballot due to a flaw in the way petitions were circulated. North Dakota is the only state in the nation with this law.

The bill now goes to the House floor for a full vote.

Social host

The state Senate killed the “social host” bill on Wednesday that would have punished those providing a location for underage drinking.

Senate Bill 2257 states someone who possesses or controls private property may not knowingly allow minors to drink on that property. They must also make a reasonable effort to stop the underage drinking, including calling the police.

Those who violated the proposed law would face a $500 fine.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, called the bill a “well-intentioned effort to find a solution to underage drinking.” However, the Judiciary Committee had concerns and many questions about putting the responsibility on property owners, she said.

“What we’re doing is shifting the responsibility from the guilty underage drinker to the property owner,” she said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, said the bill was a result of a series of meetings that involved residents, law enforcement and legislators in southeastern North Dakota.

He said North Dakota has a problem with underage drinking, and other states and cities have similar social host regulations.

“I do think eventually we’ll go this way,” he said.

The bill failed on an 11-34 vote.

Internet hunting

The North Dakota Senate voted Wednesday to ban Internet hunting.

Senate Bill 2352 bans hunting wildlife in real time using Internet services to remotely control firearms and discharge live ammunition, thus allowing someone not physically present to kill wildlife.

This also includes using any remotely-controlled device to hunt.

The bill also bans hosting an Internet hunt, enabling someone else to hunt through the Internet, and importing, exporting or possessing wildlife that’s been killed by an Internet hunt.

A violation of the proposed law would be a Class C felony.

The Senate passed the bill on a 43-2 vote. It now moves to the House.

Divorce study

North Dakota senators think it’s worthwhile to study divorce.

On a 41-4 vote, the Senate approved a 2011-12 interim state study looking into the physical, emotional and financial effects associated with divorces involving dependent children.

The study asks for legislative policy solutions, including divorce reform legislation and marriage education.

Sitte of Bismarck said there’s data showing divorce costs the government money due to increased use of food stamps and public housing and increased juvenile delinquency. She said it’s in the state’s interest to study the matter.

However, Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, said there have already been a number of family law studies.

“We’ve discussed this topic. I don’t think we need to discuss it again,” she said.

The bill now moves to the House.

N.D. divorce bill turned into study

BISMARCK — A bill that sought to delay divorces for couples with children and require marriage counseling was turned into a study this morning.

The bill now asks for a 2011-12 interim study to look into the physical, emotional and financial effects associated with divorces involving dependent children.

The study asks for legislative policy solutions, including divorce reform legislation and marriage and relational education.

The amended bill received a 5-1 do-pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had voiced opposition to the original bill. The revised bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

N.D. divorce bill debated

BISMARCK—North Dakotans wanting to get a divorce would need to wait one year and go through mandatory marriage counseling if a proposed law is approved.

Senate Bill 2367 would affect married couples with children. Marriages with substantiated allegations of domestic abuse would be exempt.

Within the one-year waiting period, couples would need to participate jointly or separately in at least 10 one-hour marriage counseling sessions. The counseling could be provided by a paid or volunteer counselor, clergy member or any state-certified or licensed marriage mediator.

At least four counseling sessions would need to focus on post-marital financial planning.

A final divorce decree would not be granted or a final order entered until each party submits to the court certification of completion of the marital counseling.

Bill supporters emphasized the negative impact that divorce has on children, citing research that these children are more apt to live in poverty, do worse in school and are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse.

However, the State Bar Association of North Dakota said the bill would mean additional expense for clients, delay their getting on with their lives and create additional opportunity for financial mischief and physical violence.

Bill sponsor Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, said the goal is to help reach agreements acceptable to both parties, to promote the children’s developmental needs and to prepare parents for future co-parenting roles if they do divorce.

“If we can save marriages or if we can have discussion if the marriage is not going to last to have a smooth transition, I think that will help the kids, and that’s what this bill is about,” Larsen said.

From 2005 to 2009, there were 9,574 divorces in North Dakota, said Tom Freier, executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance. Of these, 4,543 divorces involved 7,985 minor children, he said.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, said bill supporters didn’t provide information about the effect on children who live with parents who stay married even though they dislike each other.

Freier said studies show the most important thing is an intact home and family.

“The damage of a family breakup is greater than mom and dad not getting along all the time,” he said.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, asked Freier how he could argue to keep people in a marriage for another year when there’s been infidelity.

“There is no marriage where the two individuals cannot make a decision that, no matter what the cause of their wanting to have a divorce, that it cannot be saved,” Freier said.

Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, asked about the “substantiated allegations of domestic abuse” exception and said it was subjective. Janelle Moos of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services also wanted more clarification on what the wording meant.

“I think we have to be very cognizant of victims that either do or don’t come forward publicly,” she said.

She expressed concern about required marriage counseling for victims and perpetrators.

The Rev. Paul Schauer of Wilton, N.D., also spoke against the bill. Schauer, who is divorced, said he was “somewhat offended” about the comments made about divorced people and their children.

As a pastor who has counseled couples going through divorce, he said he was “deeply opposed” to forced counseling.

“Counseling works best when a person recognizes that they need help and that they freely choose to seek help,” he said. “If you force someone to see a counselor, there’s very little hope for growth.”

If counseling was required, Schauer said the number of couples divorcing would overwhelm his time. He also said the bill allows couples to do the counseling together or apart.

“If I don’t meet with them as a couple, it’s not going to work,” he said.

He also questioned what would determine if someone has successfully completed counseling, saying someone could just sit there and refuse to talk during the sessions.

“If we’re realistic about this, if a partner has reached the point of filing for divorce, no amount of marital counseling will fix that,” Schauer said. “Counseling is not a magical treatment … if they’ve filed for divorce, the plane has already left the runway.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Chief justice delivers N.D. State of the Judiciary

BISMARCK—Veterans courts, issues affecting the elderly and space issues in the state’s courts were among the topics highlighted in this year’s State of the Judiciary.

North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle presented the address to state lawmakers Wednesday.

The speech is an opportunity to discuss the goals and operations of the judicial branch, VandeWalle said. Here are some key points from the speech:

Racial and ethnic bias

The Task Force to Study Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts has hosted community discussions throughout the state. The group has also researched prison population, juvenile placement and minority representation on juries, in the legal profession and within the court’s workforce, he said.

The task force continues to investigate and provide the court with recommendations for improvement.

“I repeat what I have said before: the strength of the court relies on the respect of the people,” VandeWalle said. “Our state demographics are changing, and now is the time to be certain that every resident of North Dakota is assured of access to a fair and impartial justice system.”

Divorce

In 2007, the judicial branch began a mediation pilot program to address the needs of families going through divorce, VandeWalle said. The program has exceeded expectations, with 83 percent of participants reporting they were satisfied with it, he said.

The program is now in all of the state’s counties and allows rural, low-income, minority and self-represented people access to alternative dispute resolution otherwise not readily available, he said.

During the next few years, the intention is to study extending mediation services to contested probate cases and family law cases on appeal, VandeWalle said.

The Parenting Coordinator Program helps parties after the divorce and is designed for high-conflict cases where children are caught between parents.

The judge can order the parties to pay for a parenting coordinator, who has the authority to handle parenting time disputes immediately, he said.

This program has been slow to get off the ground due to the lack of familiarity with the program and its cost, VandeWalle said. The judicial branch continues to work with the program and expects to see its usage increase in the future, he said.

Veterans

There is growing interest in veterans courts due to the number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with problems like post-traumatic stress syndrome, VandeWalle said.

The state’s Court Services Administration Committee is looking into the possibility of establishing a pilot veterans court if there is a need and if suitable treatment alternatives are available, he said.

Elderly issues

VandeWalle again pushed for a resolution to study elder issues.

“I am convinced that this is an area that North Dakota can no longer wait to confront,” he said.

Within 30 years, more than 30 percent of the population in many of the state’s rural counties is expected to be over age 65, he said.

A lack of public guardians, limited funding for nonprofit guardianship services and the unsupervised use of representative payees and power of attorney agreements all contribute to conditions that make it easier to take advantage of the elderly, he said.

“Elder abuse, neglect and exploitation involve complex civil and criminal issues that require a sustained and committed response by the courts and society,” VandeWalle said.

Space issues

The state Supreme Court is not the only court in the state where space is an issue, VandeWalle said. Courts in some of the state’s largest cities are squeezed for space, and some areas have aging courthouses in need of substantial repair or that may be reaching the end of their useful life, he said.

Since 1995, most court fees are required to be deposited in the state treasury rather than county treasuries. VandeWalle proposed the state pay the counties rent for court space or provide counties with one-time payments for building or substantially expanding court space.

“I am not suggesting a new courthouse in every county,” he said. “Rather, the solution must be equitable for all counties while still ensuring that the space provided is adequate in need, size and functionality.”

The final major speech of the week, the Tribal-State relationship message, is planned for Thursday afternoon.