Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Since Senator Started her Initiative in 2014, Effort has Raised Awareness about Key Challenges in ND, Offered Ways to Help Address Many of them & Incorporated Newer Issues Facing the State to Seek Solutions 

Heitkamp’s Initiative has Worked to Keep ND Communities Strong & Families Safe Long into the Future by Addressing Crime, Drugs, Trafficking & Other Safety Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the fourth anniversary of the launch of her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced several milestones that have been reached and several more that remain on the horizon as she works to address emerging safety challenges in North Dakota.

Heitkamp’s Strong & Safe Communities Initiative is about tackling increases in crime, drugs, human trafficking, and cyber security and border security challenges by bringing a greater focus to keeping North Dakota’s communities strong and families safe in their homes. First responder training and resources have also been a critical piece of Heitkamp’s initiative, especially following the derailment of a crude oil train in Casselton in 2013.

Working with community leaders across the state, Heitkamp has effectively worked to raise awareness about these issues in North Dakota and offered solutions to address them. She has held many meetings with community leaders to come up with solutions to these challenges, including hosting a statewide summit she convened with 150 community leaders from across the state, and a report she issued on the initiative. Through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, Heitkamp has also introduced and passed legislation in the U.S. Senate building off feedback from North Dakotans. For example, her RESPONSE Act, which became law in 2016, is helping to make sure first responders have access to the resources and training they need to handle hazardous incidents on the rails, like crude oil derailments. Her bipartisan bill to crack down on websites like Backpage.com that knowingly facilitate human trafficking became law earlier this year. And her bill to assess threats at the Northern Border became law in 2016. As part of the initiative, Heitkamp also launched a task force in 2014 comprised of North Dakotans who have solid understandings of many of the challenges the state faces. She has also pressed federal agencies, held congressional hearings, and worked with local and national advocates to address these challenges -- and her efforts continue.

Heitkamp is also working hard to address several other challenges facing North Dakota that have grown in the past few years, including opioid abuse, mental health challenges and increases in suicide, threats to rural economies like the administration’s trade policies, and the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women.

“The derailment of a crude oil train near Casselton in 2013 was a wakeup call to our state. North Dakota was witnessing massive growth, but it also meant we faced new safety challenges which could not be ignored,” said Heitkamp. “The purpose behind my Strong & Safe Communities Initiative has been to work with North Dakotans to build a strong, safe future for our state by addressing these new challenges head on. No family should have to worry about drugs, gangs, or human trafficking. They should have opportunities to thrive and the peace of mind to know they and their families are safe. With the help of dedicated North Dakotans across our state, we have made much progress over the last four years both through efforts in our communities and legislation I’ve introduced and passed in the U.S. Senate. But there’s more work to do, and there are more challenges that have arisen – opioid abuse, a mental health and suicide crisis, an epidemic of missing and murdered Native women, and much more. We need to stand together to keep working on commonsense solutions that enable every community and every family to remain safe so we are building a strong state for the future.”

“Senator Heitkamp’s comprehensive strategy has directly improved first responders’ abilities to respond to emergency situations like crude oil derailments—and it has made North Dakota a stronger and safer place to live and work,” said Tim McLean, Chief of the Casselton Volunteer Fire Department. “The 2013 derailment outside of Casselton was a major red flag— not just for my friends and neighbors, but for folks across North Dakota. As first responders, we’re trained to protect our communities from danger and alert our citizens if they’re in harm’s way. But after that derailment, we quickly learned that we needed to seek out new information, support, and training if we were going to properly mitigate the risks posed by changing technologies and a rapidly growing energy industry in North Dakota. Senator Heitkamp was quick to hear our concerns and develop a strategy for action. Over the last four years, her Strong and Safe Communities Initiative has included a push to improve rail safety, update standards for tanker cars, and strengthen track inspection regulations on rail lines going through North Dakota, including passing her RESPONSE Act to support first responders. And we know her work continues to stand up for responders and safety in our communities.”

“Senator Heitkamp's Strong and Safe Communities Initiative has been a major force in raising awareness about the horrific crimes of human trafficking in our state and taking action to protect more children, provide safety for victims, and bring perpetrators to justice,” said Christina Sambor, FUSE Program Manager at Youthworks in Fargo. “As law enforcement, advocates, and community leaders have looked for ways to fight back against human trafficking in our state, Senator Heitkamp has been a champion of legislation that toughens our laws and prevents more young people from being trapped in a horrific situation. Her work to raise awareness about these terrible crimes has had both statewide and national repercussions— including raising the alarm about the prevalence of these terrible crimes in Indian Country and across the internet. After Senator Heitkamp’s bill to crack down on sites that enable sex trafficking online was signed into law, Backpage.com was shut down. After hearing from victims and bringing senior officials to see firsthand the realities of trafficking the ground, Senator Heitkamp worked to pass her safe harbor bill to make sure victims aren’t treated as criminals. These are real, effective results that have made North Dakota stronger and safer, and I know Senator Heitkamp will continue this important initiative until the last child is safe off the streets and the last offender is behind bars.”

When Heitkamp launched her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative in 2014, she specifically aimed to address the following challenges across the state, and has introduced and passed legislation in the U.S. Senate to help address them:

  • Transportation of crude oil on the rails
  • Human trafficking and domestic violence
  • Crime and drug crime
  • Indian Country challenges
  • Economic development and community impact issues
  • 21st century security challenges
  • Border security issues

Additionally, there are more recent challenges that Heitkamp has also incorporated into her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative to make sure North Dakota continues to work to address all issues facing the state in a comprehensive way:

  • Opioid and substance abuse and addiction
  • Mental health and suicide crisis
  • Epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women
  • Rural economic challenges
  • Rural health issues
  • Economic diversity     

Click here for a comprehensive list of action Heitkamp has taken to address the emerging challenges facing North Dakota through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, which is also included below.

In October 2015, Heitkamp held her Strong & Safe Communities Summit which brought together about 150 community leaders from across North Dakota to discuss solutions to build a strong future for the state. It offered a productive and collaborative way for North Dakotans in various fields – including law enforcement, social workers, advocates, and government officials – to discuss challenges they face, talk about what is and is not working to combat issues in their communities, and brainstorm new ideas to address these challenges.

In August 2016, Heitkamp released her Strong & Safe Communities Report which offered a comprehensive set of proposals to address the emerging challenges facing North Dakota and seek a strong future for the state. It incorporates ideas to address these challenges as well as actions Heitkamp had taken in the U.S. Senate to support North Dakota’s communities, as well as actions she will take in the future to tackle North Dakota’s growth and safety challenges. Since Heitkamp released the report she has continued to work to address these issues, and has introduced and passed more legislation to do just that.

North Dakota has reaped major rewards from the state’s energy and population booms. For years, the state has had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, thousands of open jobs, and innovation, research, and development taking place. Even as oil and commodity prices have fluctuated, such rapid growth has impacted North Dakota, bringing with it new law enforcement, infrastructure, and safety challenges. Heitkamp had already been working to address these issues, and through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative she has been raising more awareness about them and providing a tangible plan to tackle them moving forward to help build a strong future for North Dakota. 

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov