One of the more high profile issues of the 2017 Legislative Session had it’s committee hearing yesterday in Bismarck. House Bill 1427 was heard by the House Government and Veteran’s Affairs Committee and is sponsored by Rep. Christopher Olson (R – District 13).
One of the key elements to HB 1427 is the consideration of “absorptive capacity” for local communities and the state in accepting refugees. In a nutshell the bill specifically considers resources such as social service agencies, welfare agencies, childcare facilities, law enforcement, housing, schools, etc. and the effect of refugee resettlement on those resources.
A controversial aspect of the bill is that it would enable local governments to apply to the state for a moratorium on refugee resettlement in their community if they found that they did not have sufficient absorptive capacity. And in addition to local governments having this option, the governor would also have the authority to declare a state-wide moratorium, via executive order, should he determine the state not to have the absorptive capacity necessary to continue accepting refugees.
The only federally authorized refugee resettlement organization in the state of North Dakota is Lutheran Social Services, a private non-profit organization. Since it’s founding in 1919 as Lutheran Children’s Home Finding Society there is no question that LSS has made a significant and positive contribution to the lives of many individuals and families.
In their “Annual Report 2015” LSS showed a total of just over $22 million in operating revenue. A full 50% of that came from “Government Grants and Contracts”. Only 18% came from “Charitable Contributions”. The remaining 32% came from “Fee Income”. In the 2013-2015 Biennium, LSS received $8.5 million from state tax dollars.
How much of that $8.5 million goes to refugee resettlement? I do not know. One would imagine that in addition to state tax dollars going to LSS that there is also an added expense through other government programs that some refugees eventually participate in. And that leads me to wonder, should North Dakota taxpayers foot the bill for a refugee resettlement program? I don’t believe so.
If refugee resettlement is going to take place in North Dakota, it should not be on the backs of taxpayers. Lutheran Social Services and other private non-profit organizations should function strictly on their own private contributions.
As a result of the hearing, HB 1427 was amended to an interim study at the request of Rep. Olson.