Shaw: Priorities for the 2021 ND legislative session

Among Shaw's priorities are paid family leave and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw

FARGO — The North Dakota Legislature convenes next week. Here’s what the lawmakers should pass:

COVID-19 assistance. That means helping individuals and businesses hurt by the coronavirus, strongly funding public health programs, and resisting any efforts to remove emergency powers from the governor.

Paid Family Leave. People should be paid a percentage of their income for several weeks if they have a health crisis or a new child in the family, and they can’t work. This is needed now more than ever because of the devastation caused by COVID-19. The humane thing to do is to give some much needed temporary financial assistance to North Dakotans who have lost their incomes, through no fault of their own.

Financial assistance for North Dakotans with Type 1 diabetes. The cost of insulin to keep diabetes patients alive is outrageous. Legislation should require health insurance companies to pay for much more of those costs.

Justice for victims of sexual abuse. Many of these victims, often children, were too frightened, ashamed or traumatized to speak up when they were abused. When they finally had the courage, the statute of limitations had expired. North Dakota needs to open a new two-year window so victims can seek civil action against their abusers. In the last two years, 15 states have opened similar windows.


A primary seat belt law and higher speeding fines. The current secondary seat belt law is a joke, as are the speeding fines, which are the lowest in the nation. Sadly, half of the people who die in motor vehicle accidents in North Dakota are not wearing their seat belts. The mask mandate saved lives. Now, we need tougher driving laws with real teeth that will also save lives.

Legalize recreational marijuana. It’s time. It’s now becoming legal in neighboring South Dakota and Montana, hardly liberal bastions. People are going to continue smoking marijuana, whether it’s legal or not. Marijuana will eventually be legal in North Dakota, one way or the other. If the Legislature makes it legal, the state can be ahead of the game on this issue and determine the proper regulations, availability and taxation.

A bonding bill. Take advantage of the current historically low interest rates, and fund needed water, road, bridge and housing projects.

Electronic signing for ballot measures. It’s time to act like it’s the year 2021, not 1921. Use the available technology. People should be able to sign petitions online, and have their signatures verified. It’s extremely difficult to get signatures in person in the middle of a pandemic or during our brutal winters. Direct democracy should be made easier, not harder.

Get rid of the 60% threshold for school bonding elections. It’s absurd that 41% of the vote can beat 59% of the vote in any election. If the majority of the people vote that they want to build a new school, then they should get the new school.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email

What To Read Next
Get Local