Open government scored a victory and a defeat Wednesday in the North Dakota Legislature.
The state Senate approved an amendment to House Bill 1215, involving the charged issue of a school district allowing concealed carry in its buildings. Lawmakers voted to remove the controversial amendment, which would have allowed districts to decide the fate of concealed carry in executive session, away from the ears of the public.
Proponents of the bill said it would keep potential assailants from knowing which schools remained gun-free zones, but the Senate Judiciary Committee disagreed.
“I think the committee was a little skeptical of that rationale,” said Sen. David Hogue (R-Minot), chair of the committee. “We thought it was unlikely a gunman would be scouring the minutes of school boards to find out what school authorized guns in schools and which didn’t.”
Hogue said the committee heard testimony from parents saying they’d like to know if guns would be present in schools, and the senators weren’t clear on the rational of that section until much later in the bill’s hearing.
“Not good policy to have discussion behind closed doors,” Hogue added.
In the House, a level of public information was removed from law with the passage of Senate Bill 2310, relating to information contained within a crash report.
Rep. Robert Frantsvog (R-Minot) said the Department of Transportation requested the measure after being flooded with requests for months and weeks of records.
He said the House Transportation Committee suggested the body strike down the bill because it felt the information needed to remain public and a matter of open record.
Rep. Mark Owens (R-Grand Forks) said the bill, as it arrived from the Senate, was trying to lock everything down but felt the amendment was in the interest of the people involved in the accident. The locked information, per the amended bill, would be the person’s driver identification number, telephone, address, insurance name and policy number, along with date of birth in the name of protecting them from identity theft.
“If you vote no, we announce to the world that North Dakota is open for business for $2 a page,” Owens said, later saying that newspapers and insurance companies can access all other information through the Sunshine Law.
Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo) said identity theft is a bigger issue and the bill locks up information that needs to be locked up from the public.
Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot) said the amendment made the bill better, but urged red votes because he felt things needed to remain open record, but added it didn’t make things “too tough” if passed.
“The information has been open to the public for many years and we have not heard of any instances when this information is used for identity theft,” Ruby said.