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Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

BISMARCK, N.D. — The Williston Herald, Williston, Dec. 8, 2014

Budget a big step for oil patch

Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed his 2015-17 budget with a clear emphasis on the needs of western North Dakota’s oil patch.

In total, $3.7 billion of the record $15.72 billion is being offered to western North Dakota. The governor also addressed key issues by supporting a change in the oil and gas tax formula to 60/40, with the counties earning the lion’s share of the pot.

He also put forward $873 million in one-time “jump start” funding to oil and non-oil counties, similar to the $800 million surge funding proposed by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, taking a step forward to include Watford City for the first time with the oil patch’s original hub cities of Williston, Minot and Dickinson.

Other funding initiatives in his budget boosted spending in local higher education, school construction, housing and rapid enrollment grants.

Dalrymple said he hopes Williston is happy, and suffice to say we should be satisfied.

That said, we have a few concerns to address.

The first is that the budget is based off oil prices at $74 per barrel, ending the biennium at $82. Granted, its down from the $90 per barrel this biennium’s budget was based on, but we would urge the Legislature to take a close look in February when forecasters get their next look at prices.

The governor was confident North Dakota wouldn’t be a “disaster” if the current trend continues, because the state’s analyst isn’t predicting production to drop since drilling in North Dakota is still among the cheapest in the world.

But in the end, we don’t want to end up like Clark Griswold and buy the pool before the Christmas bonus comes through.

We also want to caution the governor to not roll back the formula redistribution until western North Dakota is caught up.

In Williston alone, officials are projecting $1 billion in needs through 2020, and Williston Mayor Howard Klug said the city is already four years behind on infrastructure needs.

This budget proposal was the first recognized effort to include Watford City, which surged from a population of 1,400 to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 service population, according Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford.

The governor’s proposal should be commended for what could head to western North Dakota, and the Legislature needs to be encouraged not to tinker too much with the funds because they don’t understand the need.

Lawmakers made a concentrated effort to better understand the oil patch during the interim period, and that needs to be reflected when bills are passed.

The same goes for future bienniums.

For now, we hope the Legislature continues down the path the governor has set forth with this historically high budget.

We also hope western legislators use the experience they peddled during the election to ensure these bills and funds pass mostly intact, and provide real relief to the oil patch.

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In related news, North Dakota editorials show concern for oil industry, trains.

The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Dec. 10, 2014

We all should know our government

Supporters hope North Dakota legislators will approve a bill requiring high school students to pass a 100-question citizenship exam.

The goal is to ensure students graduate with a solid understanding of civics. State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and first lady Betsy Dalrymple have announced their support for the bill.

House Education Committee Chairman Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, will sponsor the bill during the legislative session that begins next month.

To pass the test, students must answer at least 60 questions correctly. Immigrants seeking citizenship are given 10 of the 100 questions on the civics portion of the naturalization test and must get at least six right.

It’s not necessarily easy. Those taking the Bismarck Tribune’s online civics quiz, modeled after the test given to immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship, didn’t fare well.

Of the 565 who took the 11-question online exam last week, the average result was four correct answers for a score of 36 percent.

Eighteen people received perfect scores.

Does this mean we are a nation ignorant of our own government? No. It was an unscientific test and we don’t know anything about the online users who took the test. Some, apparently, were a little rusty on civics.

But give them credit for taking the time to test themselves.

Bismarck Superintendent Tamara Uselman told reporter Amy R. Sisk the important thing for students is to retain the knowledge.

Mandan Assistant Superintendent Jeff Lind believes the current curriculum covers the information in the test. Mandan students must take classes in U.S. history and government to graduate, as is the case across the state.

Both Uselman and Lind stress the importance of history and government courses. Whether the bill as written is the right approach will be up to the Legislature.

Under the bill, each school district would decide how to implement the test, Baesler said.

The bill is part of a national effort by the Civics Education Initiative to require the exam in schools. The initiative is pushing to get similar bills passed in all 50 states by 2017.

The bill should result in some interesting debate. What’s the best way to test students — multiple choice or a written exam? Should the test be given at one time or over a period of time? Are the right questions asked?

Legislators should consider taking the test so they have an understanding of what they are asking of students. They wouldn’t need to release their test results, just use the information for a healthy debate.

Everyone needs a solid understanding of civics. Legislators who deal daily in the government arena should have the background for deciding the merits of the bill.

In fact, anyone following the bill through the Legislature will get a civics lesson.

If the bill helps provide a long-term understanding of civics it should be approved.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Dec. 10, 2014

Second Amendment vs. toys

Perhaps a new debate about gun control is needed in America. Not about real firearms — but about “toys” that sometimes cause needless deaths of children.

Regularly enough that the scenario is familiar to many people, law enforcement officers kill a child because of a mistake. Dispatchers are called by people concerned a boy is brandishing a gun. Officers arrive, order the youth to put the weapon down and, instead, he moves as if to fire at them.

Deputies or officers, with just split-seconds to react, shoot the lad. To their horror, they find he was armed only with a realistic-looking toy or pellet pistol.

Any reasonable person who has seen such “toys” understands. Many look much like real firearms. They are much different than the plastic “pretend” guns many adults enjoyed when they were young.

Some makers of realistic-looking toys or pellet guns place orange plastic tips on their barrels, in an attempt to make mistakes less likely.

That did not help 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland. The orange tip had been removed from the pistol he had when a police officer shot and killed him a few weeks ago.

No discussion of new limits of any kind on real firearms can occur without concern about the Second Amendment. Americans are guaranteed the right to keep and bear real firearms.

Some in government have gone too far in infringing upon that right. Powerful forces have been at work in attempts to virtually eviscerate the Fourth Amendment. Those efforts must be resisted.

But the Second Amendment contains no guarantee of a child’s right to be killed because of a mistake.

For years, we have been among those urging that parents be cautious in allowing their children to carry realistic-looking toy or pellet guns in public. Such suggestions have had only limited success.

It has been suggested federal laws should be enacted to prohibit sale of toy or pellet guns that could be mistaken for the real thing. There are many pros and cons to that argument.

Can the issue be linked to the Second Amendment? We don’t see how — but like most other reasonable people, we’re willing to consider other viewpoints.

That, after all, is how we do things in this country. But without even agreeing to discuss the issue, there will be no consensus and nothing will change. And that would mean more children dying needlessly.

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