Thursday, March 30, 2017

Justice Reform Bills Pass House and Senate



Based on an increasing demand for prison space, the legislature has undertaken a number of criminal justice reforms. The legislature began a comprehensive review of North Dakota's jail and prison system in the interim with the effort primarily being overseen by the Council of State Governments. CSG began by reviewing data from both county jails and the North Dakota State penitentiary. The end result was the criminal justice system is a poor substitute for local mental health and chemical treatment options. In attempt to address that result, the legislature offered many bills this session which contained modifications to North Dakota's statutes.

Many of those bills became a step closer to reality today after the Senate approved many of the changes previously adopted by the House. HB 1041 is the signature bill of this effort which focuses on ensuring defendant's are eligible for good time even when serving sentences at local jails. Additionally, 1041 requires judges to sentence defendants convicted on the lowest level felonies to be first sentenced to probation as opposed to sending them into prison or jail. This clause has become known as "presumptive probation." Judges are allowed to deviate from such probation if they find the defendant has demonstrated some aggravating factors which would justify incarceration. The bill also reduces drug offense levels for both the drug itself and the accompanying paraphernalia.

SB 2149 also got one step closer to passage today after receiving Senate approval. SB 2149 is also aimed at reducing sentences for drug offenses and in particular those accused of dealing drugs. However, instead of lowering penalties for drug dealers, 2149 simply reduces (roughly by half) the minimum mandatory sentences which will allow courts to ultimately determine the sentence.

What effect these bills will have on the State or County's bottom line is too early to tell but one thing for certain is both sides of the isle support efforts to reduce incarceration.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Social Service Funding Plan Suffers Setback in House Tax Committee

The House Finance and Tax Committee stripped the only tool this Legislative Session that addresses the delivery of permanent property tax relief to the citizens of North Dakota. Committee members adopted an amendment prepared for Representative Al Carlson which essentially turns the bill into another two year study of the social service funding plan. The amendment instructs the Department of Human Services to develop an implementation plan for the eventual state funding of county social services during the 2017-18 interim. 

“This is a very disappointing day,” commented Mark Johnson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Association of Counties. “We worked very hard to make this plan acceptable to the Legislative body. Numerous representatives from the state tax department, state human service department, legislators, county commissioners and county social service directors spent the last two years diligently looking at how this could work. We felt this was a solid plan.”

Chairman Craig Headland told his committee it is the legislature’s intent to move forward with this plan but a number of details in how this plan would be implemented still need to be flushed out, which can be done by further studying the issue. “Without knowing what is happening with our revenues, I don’t believe it is the right time to do it,” said Headland.

The study is to identify options for efficiencies with the take-over of the funding. Many committee members pointed out how counties are already finding efficiencies and sharing services. 

Representative Jason Dockter pointed to the proposed formula in SB 2206 as driving efficiencies over time. “I hope the legislature intends to move forward on funding mandates we require at some point,” emphasized Representative Ben Koppleman.  

Johnson added, “I really don’t know how we can study this issue any further. This is a drastic departure from what several parties were trying to accomplish this session by finding  an ‘off ramp’ from the unpredictable growth of the 12 percent buy-down of property taxes and instead deliver property tax relief in a much more meaningful and predictable fashion. This essentially ‘kicks the can down the road’ for another two years. What is unfortunate is that the people of North Dakota will be missing out from having property tax relief delivered in this method if this amendment is passed.”

The amendment replaces all the prior language in SB 2206. It will go to the full House for its approval. Because the House version is different from the version approved in the Senate, this bill will more than likely go to conference committee where members from each chamber will work on a compromise. NDACo will work diligently to work to restore the bill to something more similar as to what was introduced and passed in the Senate. 
The amendment can be found at this link: which can be viewed by following this link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4bYba4CUTL1SUFDSEhnWEJNWmM

Hear reaction from NDACo Exec. Director, Mark Johnson below:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

NDACo Legislative Report #13

A busy week, but not much to show for it.  Lots of committee work and a fair amount of “floor session” but not a lot of progress. 

Not of direct county concern, but of some historical interest, was House floor action on a city bill.  The cities requested the introduction of a bill to create a tiered structure for emergency levies, very similar to what was passed by the counties several sessions ago.  It would have allowed smaller cities to levy a greater number of mills, and retain a larger balance (in mills) in their emergency fund.  The interesting part was the bill was defeated on Monday by one vote, reconsidered and passed on Tuesday by one vote, and then reconsidered again and defeated by 2 votes on Wednesday.  Few can recall such a sequence of events.

Things like that, as well as debates over casino gaming, guns, and day care kept the Legislature from moving along as fast as leadership had hoped.  The goal of ending in 70 days is becoming less of a reality.

On the county front we saw two bills regarding indigent burial bills pass with one of the county amendments attached, but not the other.  Concerns remain as to how this will impact county costs going forward.

More positively, the House passed the Senate bill raising the public improvement bid limit for advertising from $100,000 to $150,000. This is now on the Governor’s desk.

The repeal of the “Truth in Taxation” notice requirement, and its replacement with a consolidated “preliminary tax estimate and meeting notice” was passed by the House (77-14) and the Senate immediately concurred.  This now goes to the Governor.

The Recorder fee bill (SB2340) was sent out of committee in a form that the county recorders felt was lacking, and it was rereferred to the Political Subdivisions Committee next week for more work. This bill was not requested by the Recorders and proposes more of a flat fee structure that has somewhat of an unknown impact to county revenues.

A major setback for the statewide radio project (SIRN) funding came as the state share of the project (SB2024) was defeated on the House floor after a half hour of debate.  This bill proposed a doubling of the penalties for traffic violations to go into a separate fund to support this major infrastructure improvement.  The “local share” remains alive in the Senate as a 50-cent phone charge in HB1178.

A few of the major bills still in committee include:
                Social Service Funding (SB2206)
                Caps on local property taxes (HB1361)
                County retention of penalties for “fat trucks” on county roads (SB2045)
                DOCR Budget – State authority to refuse inmates (SB2015)
                OMB Budget – public administrator funding (HB1015)
                Sec. of State Budget – possible inclusion of election equipment funding (HB1002)

Although the schedule below indicates very few hearings, there will be unpublished “rehearings” as legislation affecting the state’s budget get referred from policy committees to appropriations throughout the week.  There will also be a lot of quiet committee work as the more difficult issues become the focus.

Keep your legislators informed as they come home on weekends, and let them know how you feel about the issues.  The (very brief) hearing schedule on county bills follows.

Time


Room
Top of Form
Top of Form
Monday, 3/27


9:00
E * 
NDPERS Health to be self-insured 
House Industry, Business and Labor 
Peace Garden 
9:30
J ** 
D/A education - alcohol crimes by minors - funding for children's' behavioral health services 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
Tuesday, 3/28


8:30
J ** 
Sentence reduction, medical paroles, good time, drug offenses - includes presumptive probation
Bottom of Form
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
Bottom of Form




               


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Local Zoning Control of Marijuana in Question

Marijuana may be coming to a plot next door and your local city or county may not have a single thing to say about it.

The House Human Service spent most of Tuesday morning receiving testimony, pro and con, for the bill to provide an enhanced regulatory structure for the production and sale of medical marijuana. Generally the bill reduces the number of sites and improves the state's regulatory control over who can operate and where these sites can be located.

However, some committee members want state preemption of local zoning regulations, giving local elected governing boards no say on where in town the distribution center is located, and the county no say on where the marijuana is grown.

Your city and county association representatives are working to preserve local zoning control of this new industry and we urge all local officials to carry this message to your representatives.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NDACo Legislative Report #12

The hearing schedule is getting short, and tensions are beginning to rise as the Legislature gets ever closer to the end. Some are saying Easter Monday is the day they hope to adjourn, but others think that this is incredibly optimistic.  The issues of casinos gambling, restructuring the NDPERS health plan, taxing internet sales, property tax relief and of course the ending fund balance will undoubtedly be the final issues of the session, and the two bodies seem in disagreement on most of these.

As our previous post indicates, we had well attended (and we believe) successful hearings on the “property tax relief through social service funding “ and “property tax caps” issues.  These are both likely to have very different positions in each of the chambers and will be part of that “property tax relief/reform” discussion in the final days.  We will let you know when it will be necessary to start contacting legislators on the floor, but don’t hesitate to let them know when they come home for forums.

During the last few days however, we have seen plenty of action on our less “political” issues.

This week we saw:
  • The governor sign the bill to prevent phone companies from “double-dipping” on the charges to local 9-1-1 programs (HB1027)
  • The Senate pass the House Bill (HB1250) to FINALLY clarify the process for disclosing sales prices on real property transfers.
  • The Senate to also pass the bill (HB128) to remove the hard mandate about counties buying century code books.
  • The House pass two favorable publication bills – clarifying and reducing county costs for bid notices.
  • The House also pass a bill allowing the Bank of North Dakota to expand its infrastructure loan fund in a manner that will make it available to county road projects.
In the area of legislation needing local action, we have SB2204, addressing the state costs associated with the Statewide Interoperable Radio System (SIRN).  This bill would put a surcharge on traffic offenses and the revenue would go into the SIRN project.  It was designed to address two important law enforcement goals – making our speeding fines less ridiculous, and helping fund some much needed infrastructure.  The bill was voted out of the House Transportation Committee on Thursday with a 9-5 Do Not Pass recommendation.  It will take every county sheriff, police chief, fire chief, EMS volunteer, and 911 coordinator (and frankly every local government officials) to turn this around on the floor of the House.  We expect this to hit the floor early next week.  The message must be “Vote YES on SB2204” to support public safety.”

As noted and shown below, next week will have only a few “county bill” hearings, but there will be plenty of action in the committees as they debate the tougher issues they have left before them. Don’t hesitate to come to Bismarck and watch them work – it is often quite interesting and will certainly help keep county concerns at the forefront.


Comment
Room
Monday 3/20


9:00
Civil action for elder abuse 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
9:00
E  
LC Budget for NDPERS Administration 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
9:00
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 
9:00
Certain records of counsel for indigents confidential
Senate Judiciary 
Fort Lincoln 
9:30
Clarifies offenses against minors 
Senate Judiciary 
Fort Lincoln 
9:40
New financial exploitation of vulnerable adult crime 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
10:30
Changes to vulnerable adult statute 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
11:00
S ***  
Budget for OMB - public guardianship funds 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
2:00
Prime bids to list subcontractors to be used 
House Industry, Bus. & Labor 
Peace Garden 
2:00
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 
2:00
E * 
NDPERS Health to be self-insured 
House IB&L 
Peace Garden 
2:00
S ***  
Budget for OMB - public guardianship funds 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
3:00
Expanded review for state to accept federal funding 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
Tuesday 3/21


8:30
Donor to nonprofit-info not public 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
8:30
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 
9:00
J *** 
Limits law enforcement ability to collect civil forfeitures 
Senate Judiciary 
Fort Lincoln 
9:00
Some of state share of oil revenues to go to Budget Stabilization Fund 
Senate Appropriations 
Harvest 
9:30
J *** 
Medical Marijuana implementation  
House Human Services 
Fort Union 
9:50
Enforcement of Canadian Domestic Violence orders 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
10:00
J * 
Restrictions on use of confidential informants 
Senate Judiciary 
Fort Lincoln 
2:00
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 

Wednesday 3/22


8:30
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 
9:00
Study juvenile justice system 
House Judiciary 
Prairie 
9:30
Firearm surrender due to domestic violence court order 
Senate Judiciary 
Fort Lincoln 
Thursday 3/23


9:15
R* 
Study cost of public notice publication costs 
Senate Political Subdivisions 
Red River 
9:30
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea 
10:00
V  
Study moving city elections to November 
Senate Political Subdivisions 
Red River 
Friday 3/24


8:30
J ** 
DOCR Budget 
H-Approp. HR
Sakakawea