This 14-Year-Old North Dakotan Knows More About Good Government Than Her State Lawmakers


North Dakota’s 63rd legislative session adjourned at close to 4:30 a.m. on May 4, with only three hours left in its 80-day time frame.

Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple signed $975 million in tax relief for the years 2013-2015, an unprecedented amount. The legislature also approved necessary funds for the growing North Dakota economy and population boom that has become quite apparent due to recent oil mining in the state. Education funds, funding for highway and road improvement, and financial support for more highway patrol troopers are all included in the new laws going into effect.

Despite the positive advances this year's legislative session has provided, there are also many drawbacks North Dakota residents are all too aware of.

Fourteen-year-old Sedhalia Mahlum summed up her concerns pretty well in a letter penned to state officials. Her first concern revolves around the 2011 laws signed in by Dalrymple, banning all abortions after six weeks. This was one of three measures approved by the governor, one of which made North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome. Another requires that doctors performing any abortion must also hold hospital-admittance privileges.

Mahlum is upset with the governor’s concern and willingness to make sure a child is born, but lack of dedication to its care afterwards. So far the state has spent $52,000 defending the abortion bans, despite vehement arguments that the laws are unconstitutional, a legal battle that Dalrymple fully expected to take place.

Mahlum has another valid concern with the legal happenings in her home state. Officials seem to be more concerned with the boom in economic growth and providing oil companies with tax breaks than taking care of the state's citizens. Building a new oil well in North Dakota costs close to $10 million, which is around $3 million more than any other oil-producing region in the United States. Each well not only brings in a large amount of money but costs a great deal too, with trucks making 2,000 trips in the first year of operation.

As of late May this year, legislators chose 41 topics out of 69 potential studies to examine between now and the 64th legislature, which will take place in 2015. Legislators plan to discuss the state’s tobacco control plan and child-care service needs. However, one of the rejected topics includes special traffic enforcement for high-fatality areas on state highways. Another rejected study is the requirements placed on state schools by the federal education department, meaning that despite the additional funding coming into the state's coffers, students may not be receiving proper education due to lack of regulation or improper use of funds.

As of today, it seems that the teenage Mahlum may have a lot to worry about.