Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

The state Christmas tree lighting is Monday at the Capitol. This year’s tree is a 25-foot balsam fir from northwestern Wisconsin, said North Dakota Council on the Arts spokeswoman Amy Schmidt.

My colleagues at the Grand Forks Herald asked me to find out why the state tree isn’t harvested in North Dakota.

I called Bob Harsel with the North Dakota Forest Service in Lisbon. He said there are a few places in North Dakota that grow balsam firs, but they aren’t too adaptable since the trees like more acidic soil than what’s found here.

“In places, you might find a few, but they’re pretty rare as far as a Christmas tree (here),” he said.

The firs are considered “the Cadillac of the Christmas tree,” Harsel said. The official White House Christmas tree is also a balsam fir from Wisconsin, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

I also called Jody Link in the governor’s office, who did some research. The state contracts with Cashman Nursery in Bismarck, which finds the tree and takes care of it, she said.

The state has used balsam firs for 35 years after experimenting with various types of trees, Link said. They prefer the balsam fir primarily because of its height and strong branches to hold all of the state ornaments, she said. This year, 261 ornaments were donated to the state tree.

The state also needs a tree that can stay up for a longer time and doesn’t have a lot of needles falling off, Link said.

Wisconsin is the closest and best location for getting the trees, and a lot of other states go to Wisconsin for these trees as well, she said.

Dear Teri,

Brad Elliott Schlossman’s blog about UND freshman Colton St. Clair got my mind working overtime. As I understand it, Mr. St. Clair was declared ineligible to play because they had a problem with some of his high school credits.

This is not a letter about Mr. St. Clair. Rather, it is a general question: Are athletes required to meet the same admission criteria as nonathletes?

UND has always been slightly different than other schools in that it prides itself in its student athletes’ academic accomplishments. We routinely have a number of students that are not only world class athletes but accomplished scholars as well.

With all of the animosity regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, I think it is important to remember that UND is a university that happens to field a number of excellent sports teams.

When these roles become reversed, and we become a sports team disguised as an institution of higher learning, we will no longer be worthy of support.

I graduated from UND in 2005 with a BA from the honors program and will graduate in May of next year with a MS in aviation.

Paul Cline

Thanks for writing! I contacted University of North Dakota spokesman Peter Johnson. He said athletes are required to meet the same admission criteria as nonathletes.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, N.D. 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Prairie Rose Games begin this week

BISMARCK – The Prairie Rose State Games will celebrate its 25th anniversary here this week with what may be the final games.

The sporting event begins at 7 p.m. CT Friday with the opening ceremony at the Bismarck Community Bowl and continues through Sunday.

More than 1,000 athletes of various ages will participate in events throughout the weekend. New events are the Hoop It Up basketball tournament, adult co-ed kickball, off-road duathlon, family fishing and remote control car racing.

Games Board President Robert King of Valley City said the event offers something for everybody.

“You see people from 5 years old to 75 or 80 years old,” he said.

King called the games “a labor of love, but said the financial burden has become too high to continue the games beyond this year. The board of directors is dissolving, but he hopes a community will decide to continue the games.

The Prairie Rose State Games website states that its mission is to foster amateur sports competition within the state. The goal is to promote knowledge of physical fitness and sports, improve sportsmanship, and provide participation opportunities and recognition for amateur athletes and the public.

Popular events are track and field, a road race and a race walk. Youth baseball numbers are also doing well this year, said Paula Redmann, community relations manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation.

A number of events offer on-site registration, so there is still time to get involved.

Some adjustments were needed this year due to flooding, such as moving sand volleyball, but other spots were found, Redmann said. More than 300 volunteers will assist with the games.

The opening ceremony will feature Skydive Fargo and the parade of athletes. Former Gov. George Sinner will light the torch; the games began under his administration, Redmann said.

“That kicks off the whole weekend of family fun and sweat,” she said.

The public is encouraged to come out and watch the events for free. Events will take place throughout Bismarck-Mandan. Headquarters is at the main north entrance to Kirkwood Mall can provide directions to events. You can also find the list of events and locations here.

Redmann said it’s possible Bismarck may continue the games in the future. However, a community discussion is needed first, as well as getting through the flood.

“We have not said, ‘Yup, we’ll take up the torch,’ so to speak,” she said. “Right now, let’s just kind of heal up a little bit and help our community get better.”

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Check out my new to North Dakota series here.

N.D. legislative update: Day 20

BISMARCK—North Dakota senators debated the potential problems with allowing businesses to seize what they think is a fake ID but agreed to approve the bill on Tuesday.

In a 37-10 vote, Senate Bill 2133 passed and will now move to the House for debate.

The bill allows businesses to seize an ID if there is reasonable belief that it’s been altered, falsified or is being used to unlawfully obtain alcohol.

The business must notify law enforcement within 24 hours, and law enforcement must respond within 24 hours.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, expressed concern about legitimate IDs being seized and asked what those people were supposed to do for 24 hours without identification.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, said those with legitimate identification will stand there and protest.

“If it’s fake, they’re gone like lightning,” he said.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, asked if there was discussion about penalizing an employee who seized a legitimate ID to harass someone.

“(The bill) puts a lot of power in the hands of bartenders,” she said.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, a former sheriff, said law enforcement could find a way to charge the employee if those instances occurred.

Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, said the bill “seems fairly heavy-handed” and also expressed concern about innocent people having their identification taken.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said the point of the bill is to get fake IDs off the streets.

“If they (bars) turn them down and can’t take that (fake) ID, they just move on to the next bar or the next bar … until they get in the door,” Flakoll said. “It’s not going to solve all the problems related to underage drinking or drinking inappropriately. This is just one method to help lessen that.”

PTO

A bill that would allow employers to withhold payment of employees’ accrued paid time off has a do-pass committee recommendation.

The amended bill says employers would need to provide written notice to employees at the time of hiring that their PTO payment could be withheld without proper notice of quitting.

The bill is aimed at workers employed less than two years who give their employer less than 10 days written or verbal notice.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Concussions

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday aimed at better protecting student athletes against concussions.

Senate Bill 2281 would require school districts to follow a concussion management program if they sponsor or sanction athletic activities that require students to regularly practice, train and compete.

Students would be removed from practice or competition if they exhibit or report any symptoms of a concussion. They then must be examined by a licensed health care provider and would need written clearance to return to the sport.

The bill also requires coaches to receive biennial training about the nature and risk of concussion, including the risk of play after a concussion or head injury.

The bill now moves to the House.

N.D. legislative update

BISMARCK—The North Dakota Senate killed a bill on Monday that would have required at least three feet between vehicles and bicycles on the road.

Sen. Gary Lee, R-Casselton, said the bill was brought forward on behalf of bicycle enthusiasts with the intent to create a safer shared roadway and to better define the relationship between cars and bikes.

However, doubt about whether there would be “consistent, meaningful” enforcement was an issue for the Transportation Committee, Lee said.

Using Department of Transportation grant funds to better educate the public on the matter was determined to be a better alternative, he said.

The bill failed on a 17-29 vote. 

Sports concussions

An amended bill aimed at better protecting student athletes from concussions has a do-pass committee recommendation.

Senate Bill 2281 would require school districts to follow a concussion management program if they sponsor or sanction athletic activities that require students to regularly practice, train and compete.

Students would be removed from practice or competition if they exhibit or report any symptoms of a concussion. They then must be examined by a licensed health care provider and would need written clearance to return to the sport.

The bill also requires coaches to receive biennial training about the nature and risk of concussion, including the risk of play after a concussion or head injury.

“As we get our athletes bigger, stronger and faster, we need to do things to ensure that we can deal with the results of those intense interactions on the sports field,” Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said.

The amended bill doesn’t require political subdivisions, like park districts, to have similar programs, he said. 

Fake IDs

A bill that would allow businesses to seize fake IDs and turn them over to law enforcement also has a do-pass recommendation.

If there is reasonable belief the ID is being used to unlawfully obtain alcohol, the business can take the ID and must notify law enforcement within 24 hours.

The bill would require law enforcement to respond within 24 hours. 

Tuition

The House Education Committee gave a do-not pass recommendation to a bill that would freeze tuition at North Dakota’s public colleges.

The party-line vote had 10 Republicans against the tuition freeze and four Democrats supporting it, said Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, the bill sponsor.

The bill is House Bill 1301. 

Ladybug bill

North Dakota is one step closer to having the ladybug as the state insect.

A House committee gave the idea a do-pass recommendation, but amended the one-sentence proposal.

It now says, “The convergent lady beetle, hippodamia convergens, commonly known as a ladybug, is the official insect of the state of North Dakota.”

The previous bill said “ladybug, coccinella septempunctata.”

Student athlete concussion bill introduced

BISMARCK—North Dakota lawmakers want to see student athletes better protected against concussions.

Legislation introduced Wednesday would require any athletic activity sponsored or sanctioned by a school district to follow a concussion management program.

The program must define the signs and symptoms of a concussion and would require

immediate removal from play or practice if a concussion is suspected.

The student then must be examined by a physician as soon as possible. Clearance from a licensed health care provider would be needed before the athlete could return.

This program would also apply to political subdivisions that sponsor or sanction an athletic activity that requires someone under age 18 to pay a fee to regularly practice, train or compete. This involves local government entities like cities, counties and park boards.

“In looking at this with children and young adults, the goal is to protect them and give them time so that they can participate safely in sports,” said Sen. Spencer Berry, R-Fargo, the prime sponsor of the bill.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates nearly 4 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year.

There’s a growing concern these days of youth sports-related injuries, said Michael Bergeron, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“Sport concussion is certainly one of the most potentially catastrophic of injuries, so it really comes to the forefront and needs to be addressed in a very deliberate, aggressive way,” he said.

The primary goal of the legislative effort is to protect young athletes from sustaining a second concussion injury, said Darren Huber, a spokesman for Sanford Health.

An education session about concussions was offered to state lawmakers Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

 NFL Senior Vice President Jeff Miller of Washington, D.C., was in the Capitol to lend his support to the legislation.

“The NFL has a strategy nationally to try to adopt laws like this youth concussion law that Sen. Berry’s introducing today in North Dakota,” he said. “North Dakota seems to be on the leading edge of some of the work being done here.”

Former North Dakota State University and Buffalo Bills football player Phil Hansen said the issue is a hot topic.

“We’re trying to get mostly awareness out so that kids can be protected from head injuries. The NFL is at the forefront of it, and I think it’s just kind of filtering down to everyone,” Hansen said. “But we certainly want to take care of our kids. We want to make parents, coaches, officials, everybody aware of what’s going on with a concussion.”

The bill does not yet have a hearing date.

Find video of the interviews here.

Dalrymple, Dayton bet on hockey game

Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Gov.-elect Mark Dayton have placed their food bets on the hockey game between the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs and the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

If Duluth wins the game, Dalrymple will send a case of North Dakota-made Dreamfields low-carb spaghetti to Dayton. If UND wins, Dayton will send a thermos of Duluth’s Jitters Coffee.

Dalrymple and Dayton also plan on getting together for an introductory meeting to discuss issues of importance to both states. The meeting has not yet been scheduled.