Friday, November 15, 2019

Several Interim Legislative Committees Meet This Week

Interim Judiciary Committee 

Numerous Interim Legislative Committees met this week to dive into various issues that will be studied over the course of the next 12 months... 

The Interim Judiciary Committee held two full day meetings this week. Their topics ranged from civil commitment to ethics, charitable gaming, recreational marijuana and juvenile justice. 
  • Civil Commitment Study – the committee received information on the civil commitment process. Committee members questioned what steps can be taken to create greater uniformity in the process across the state and inquired about available training. Judge Gion indicated to the committee that the civil commitment law is sufficient, however resources for evaluations and screenings are lacking.
  • Red Flag Laws – Representative Karla Rose Hanson made a presentation to the committee regarding Red Flag Laws across the country. Hanson introduced a red flag law bill last session, but it was defeated. The committee had good discussion on this issue. 17 states have Red Flag Laws. 
  • Legalization of Recreational Marijuana -  Luke Niforatos with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) provided information to the committee on the impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana. He shared data illustrating what states are experiencing where marijuana is legal. His information fell in the areas of impacts to public health, fatal crashes, DUI’s, youth usage, potency along with marketing of marijuana products. Colorado for example is #1 in the US for first time youth use. The number of dispensaries in Colorado far exceeds the number of Starbucks and McDonalds combined. His presentation was very informative. Here is a link if you would like to view the stats and information: https://www.legis.nd.gov/files/committees/66-2019/21_5073_02000_1000_presentation.pdf
  • Juvenile Justice System Study - The last part of the meeting focused on a Juvenile Justice System Study.  The committee heard from various stakeholders about their work with the juvenile justice system and recommendations for revisions to NDCC 27-20.  NDACo provided a status update on the Request for Proposals that was sent out on behalf of the ND Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group to obtain technical assistance for the study.  A provider of the technical assistance will be selected by November 30, 2019.

The Interim Legacy Fund Earnings Committee traveled to Fargo to receive public input on how to best use earnings from the Legacy Fund. Lawmakers created this committee during the 2019 session. The committee held two meetings this week one in the evening and another during the day to collect ideas from citizens. There was public support for increasing infrastructure investments for roads, bridges and school buildings along with increasing the state funding for schools and eliminating the state’s income tax. Advocacy groups pitched other unique ideas for tourism, recreation, research and various other projects. The Legacy Fund’s balance is at $6.3 billion, with earnings anticipated at $368 million in the 2021-23 biennium.  The Committee plans to travel around the state to gather input from citizens. Their next meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Helms testifies to interim committee
The Interim Energy Development & Transmission Committee received extensive information on gas production and the challenges in capturing and transporting the gas. Director of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms, emphasized to the committee that major infrastructure development is needed to meet the production. He described to lawmakers that oil and gas production in North Dakota is “in the end of the 1st quarter of a football game” in perspective to the longevity. Despite low oil prices, production is rapidly growing. He also drew on how technology changes are increasing production. A 2019 well in the first few months will produce 50-75% more than a 2018 well. Helms told lawmakers we have an enormous management problem with gas and the legislature has a role to set incentives to move industry to make investments in this area. A number of companies provided the committee with information on their investments and future projects.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Interim hearings cover wind, SIRN, DOCR facilities study, and land access

There were plenty of interim legislative hearings to keep us busy this week.

Natural Resources - The Natural Resources Committee held its second meeting addressing the land access study. On the agenda were presentations from the Department of Trust Lands on public access and signage, Game and Fish on trespass violation statistics and North Dakota Information Technology on technologies that could be developed to address the electronic posting pilot requirements of HB 1021. The committee seems to be trending towards a system that starts with all lands being open with land owners being required to register with a future land owner management system to designate their property as closed. As the committee turns its attention towards identifying as many as 3 counties to participate in the pilot, NDACo worked to gather as much detail on the scope of the pilot for county’s consideration. We are working to identify counties agreeable to pilot the project. The committee discussed that the electronic posting pilot would not replace signage requirements in the three counties selected for the pilot. It is also under the understanding that, during the pilot, a violation associated with electronic posting system would not be enforceable by law so hunters would still be required to follow the physical signage on the properties.

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Review - Committee members met the individuals from The Moss Group Inc, who will be conducting an assessment of the department's facilities and programs. They provided high level information to lawmakers including correction trends across the world. This committee is tasked with a comprehensive study of DOCR facilities. 

Information Technology - Committee members spent the day hearing about various ITD projects including the state unification IT project and SIRN. Chief Technology Officer, Duane Schell provided a high overview of the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN). He explained how the project is in the beginning stages of being implemented and build-outs of the first round of PSAP's and towers are moving forward. Schell highlighted how the SIRN project will address three main challenges of the current system used by public safety including: aging infrastructure, lack of interoperability in using technology from 1970's and coverage challenges.
ITD representatives also provided the committee with an explanation of blockchain technologies and their potential use in state government. 

Energy Development and Transmission - This committee is focused on studying a comprehensive energy policy for the state but this meeting focused greatly on wind development and transmission. Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger provided the committee with a look at the property taxation of wind in North Dakota. Currently, local political subdivisions receive all the property tax generated from wind farms. However,  a bill passed last session will direct one-third of wind tax revenue to the state and two-thirds to counties for wind projects constructed after December 31, 2020 or that have been in operation for 20 years. Rauschenberger shared that an estimated $10 million was collected in wind property taxes in 2019. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

NDACo Supports Sewer System Changes Offers Testimony to Interim Committee

Sewage Treatment Systems had its second interim legislative hearing this week with the Interim Commerce Committee. Brent Beechie, Secretary and Chief Inspector, State Board of Plumbing weighed in on the issue from the Plumbing Board’s perspective. Mr. Beechie agreed with NDACo and ND SACCHO recommendation to move the technical code in ND Century Code from the State Plumbing Board to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) along with resources to provide this oversight. While the code offers some guidance and may be used for reference, Mr. Beechie noted that most local boards of health have adopted their own codes since NDCC codes have not been updated in years. Mary Korsmo provided testimony on behalf of the NDACo and the ND SACCHO highlighting the county commissioners resolution passed at the state convention and the position statement adopted by the local public health units at its September meeting.

The NDACo Resolution states:
North Dakota Administrative Code outlines standards and requires licensing for the installation of onsite sewage treatment systems, placing responsibility for these standards with the State Board of Plumbing. The plumbing board has limited staff and has sought few changes to the standards since 2000, causing their use and enforcement to vary across the state. This Association supports legislation moving responsibility for statewide minimum standards and installer licensing to a single state agency provided with adequate resources to fulfill the responsibilities. Further this Association supports the development and adoption of updated statewide onsite sewage treatment standards which allow for modification to address local conditions, and for uniform statewide educational requirements. However, this Association believes that responsibility for local licensure and inspections remain with the local public health unit and the fees supporting that activity be retained locally.

ND SACCHO position statement reads: The ND SACCHO supports statewide adoption of a unified onsite sewage treatment system consisting of basic standards while allowing for local modifications. This Association supports enabling legislation in ND Century Code with the technical code in administrative rules moved to the newly created Department of Environmental Quality. This Association further supports uniform interpretation, education of installers and inspectors, coordination with NDSU extension services for technical assistance and vendor product review at the State level.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Interim Committee Talks Tax Structure for E-Cigs

The Interim Taxation Committee recently met and briefly discussed the taxation of electronic smoking devices. The study must consider the current method of taxation applied to these products, the methods of taxation applied in other states, and the fiscal impact of applying an alternative or additional method of taxation. Current tax rate is the simple 5% sales tax; there is currently no licensing requirements for vaping/electronic smoking devices.

In his presentation Max Behlke, JUUL Labs, noted that points of consideration should include structure and administration of proposed taxes as well as clear definitions of what is to be taxed. 

The ND Tax Department provided the committee with an overview of possible taxing options stating the Department’s recommendation would be to tax at the wholesale level on final salable product. 

Offering support for a tax on all tobacco products as well as licensure of vape shops was Heather Austin of Tobacco Free North Dakota (TFND). Austin stated electronic smoking devices should be classified for what they are, which is a tobacco product, and therefore be taxed at the same rate of 28%. 

Committee members debated the subject with some believing there was not enough info to look into taxation and therefore was more of a regulation issue. It was argued that the only way these devices may get regulated is through taxation. The committee took no action on the issue.

The NDACo Legislative Team also monitored the Interim Judiciary committee which started exploring one of their interim studies, the implications of legalizing recreational marijuana. They are assigned to explore the impact to the state's economy, public health, legal system, existing medical marijuana program and other factors. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

North Dakota to Receive $1.47 Million to Modernize 911 Services

The U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Transportation have awarded North Dakota’s 911 system $1,473,805 as part of the 911 Grant Program to help 911 call centers also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) upgrade to Next Generation 911 (NG911) capabilities.

North Dakota’s 22 PSAPs have been in the process of transitioning to NG911 over the past five years. This grant will help fund the next phase of enhancements to upgrade equipment and operations so that citizens, first responders and 911 call-takers can use digital IP-based, broadband-enabled technologies to coordinate emergency response.

“The $1.4 million in grant funding will absolutely have an impact on modernizing our 911 system so that citizens, first responders and dispatchers can use today’s technology in coordinating emergency response,” said North Dakota NG911 Program Manager Jason Horning. “This will enable the state to continue leading the nation on NG911. North Dakota will be one of the first states to have an IP-based network from caller to dispatcher. That achievement is on the heels of North Dakota being the sixth state in the country to implement a statewide text-to-911 program.”

There are three specific plans for the next phase of enhancements to NG911 in North Dakota. The first includes the implementation of advanced GIS mapping systems that will make it easier to identify a 911 caller’s location. The second will create IP connections to our state’s telecommunications service providers.

“This feature will set the foundation for citizens to share pictures and videos with dispatchers in thefuture, expanding on the text-to-911 service currently available in North Dakota.” Horning added, “Imagine the impact a picture or video will have in relaying information to first responders.”

Thirdly, the funding will assist in dispatcher training. “Our dispatchers are handling more information than ever before and that will only increase going forward. We need to make sure they have the training they need to do their job effectively and efficiently,” said Karen Kempert, 911 coordinator in Cavalier County.

The 911 Grant Program awarded a total of $109 million to 34 states and two tribal nations. The state has three years to use the grant funds.

Friday, September 20, 2019

NDACo Provides Testimony on Social Service Redesign Progress Including Issues Related to Indirect Costs

Traynor testifies at Interim Human Services Committee
The Interim Human Services Committee received the first update on the redesign of county social services since the Legislature passed SB 2124 earlier this year. This monumental legislation provides state funding for county social services, and will result a more efficient method to deliver and administer social services to citizens. The committee recently requested NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor to provide the county’s perspective on how the project is progressing.

“In June we had a statewide meeting of social service directors, county commissioners, social service board members and county auditors in June. This was surprising in its productivity,” testified Traynor. “When groups of counties were asked to break out and discuss with their neighbors the likelihood of creating zones, it was a testament to the commitment these officials have for implementing the law and doing the best for North Dakota citizens.”

The counties themselves, with very little guidance from the state Department of Human Services, have formed 19 zones. This is from 46 local social service agencies. A statewide transition team has been created involving Traynor, four county directors, and a half dozen DHS staff. They have held weekly meetings to address issues as they surface.

“Obviously, there is a lot yet to do, this is an enormous undertaking, but my confidence is high that results, very positive results, will be achieved,” said Traynor.

The committee asked Traynor to convey any concerns counties have about the implementation of the redesign project. Traynor and NDACo staff have attended numerous county visits to gather input, concerns and ideas.

“We are talking about the delivery of vital human services to the most vulnerable North Dakotans, and we are also talking about the employment of about 1,000 of our citizens. So, there are, and should be, concerns. Officials and staff have some degree of anxiety, and I suspect it will continue through the interim.” Traynor added, “As part of the transition team, we are hopeful that we can lessen this anxiety with each question that gets answered and decision that is made, both locally and at the state level.”

He also summarized the work counties in most zones are doing to find solutions in addressing employee benefits. With 46 separate local social service agencies, there are 46 separate benefit packages. “When we merge employees with disparate benefits, we must do so with great care that we avoid significant impacts to employees and their families or disrupt the benefit programs that are ‘left behind’.”

The longer-term issue for the committee to be aware of relates to “indirect costs” and how the Legislature will address them in 2021. “The various means of addressing space (rental or county-owned), office equipment (agency-owned, or for countywide use), travel (mileage reimbursement, motor pool, agency-owned vehicles), IT support, insurance, etc. are quite different,” Traynor explained. “As planning moves these towards greater uniformity, I firmly believe we will need to be very careful that more of these costs don’t become just partially reimbursable. If this is the Legislature’s decision, it would undoubtedly mean a county general fund tax increase that could taint the success of this important initiative.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

NDACo Identifies Interim Legislative Activities

The North Dakota Association of Counties will be involved in and monitor a great deal of committees during the 2019-20 interim. NDACo has identified 58 studies and reports in 20 of the 28 interim committees that relate to counties. The following summarizes key studies that may ultimately affect counties.

Agriculture and Transportation.  Rep. Dennis Johnson – Chair. This committee will study the feasibility and desirability of creating a road train pilot program. The concept is to allow a series of multiple trailers or semi-trailers hauled by a primary vehicle. The study will look at economic impacts, safety concerns and restrictions for weights, length, routes and hours of operation. 

Budget Section.  Sen. Terry Wanzek – Chair. Members from Appropriations Committees serve on this committee, which has broad oversight over the state’s budget. The Department of Corrections will also be reporting to this committee once a year on the department’s prison population management plan, inmate admissions and the number of inmates the department has not admitted after sentencing. This will be of particular interest this interim as DOCR’s prioritization plan has kicked in for female inmates. Counties have experienced denials for admission and currently are responsible for the housing and medical costs of those state sentenced inmates. New to this interim, the committee will also be monitoring the donations related to the Theodore Roosevelt presidential library.

Commerce.  Rep. Scott Louser – Chair. This committee has numerous studies related to unmanned aircrafts and the industry in North Dakota. Of particular interest to counties, the interim committee will be studying the regulation of sewage treatment (septic) systems.

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Review.  Rep. Jon Nelson – Chair. This is a new interim committee created during the 2019 Legislative Session. The committee will conduct a comprehensive study of the DOCR. It will focus on the gender-responsiveness of facilities and service needs along with an assessment of facilities at MRCC, JRCC and the state hospital.

Education Policy.  Rep. David Monson – Chair. This committee will be diving into the very complex topic of the impacts of the behavior health crisis in the classroom. The study will look at the behaviors that make learning environments unsafe for students, teachers or other school personnel and the need for a uniform reporting system.

Employee Benefits Programs.  Rep. Mike Lefor – Chair. This committee is charged with monitoring and evaluating the various NDPERS programs. NDACo traditionally watches the committee’s activities because most county employees are affected by these programs. This interim, they will be studying the feasibility and desirability of PERS entering a separate contract for prescription drug coverage under the uniform group insurance program.

Energy Development & Transmission.  Sen. Rich Wardner – Chair. This committee receives numerous reports through the interim related to energy development in the state. This committee will be receiving two new reports this interim regarding a study on recycling produced water from oil and gas operations and a report from EERC on an underground gas storage pilot project. This committee traditionally holds “field” hearings across the state during the interim.

Government Administration.  Sen. Randy Burckhard – Chair. This committee will study consolidated emergency and interoperable public safety communications system governance and funding options. They will also be studying accessibility of the Capitol and state and federal veterans’ programs.

Government Finance.  Sen. Ron Sorvaag – Chair. This committee reviews state budget information, including monitoring of state revenue and appropriations. In addition, they will be reviewing state agency fees.

Health Care.  Rep. George Keiser – Chair. This committee will explore ways the state may be able to affect the current trend of health insurance rates increasing. The committee will also be looking at the delivery of health care in the state to include rural access and use of Emergency Medical Services. In addition, the Dept. of Health will report on the status and progress of an educational campaign regarding abandoned infants and approved locations for abandoned infants.

Human Services.  Rep. Karen Rohr – Chair. This committee will receive periodic reports from the Department of Human Services on the status of the transition from county social services to human service zones. This committee will be looking for information on not only the structure changes but also the human service zone budgets, indirect cost allocation plans, and any transfer of employees. The committee will study issues related to the Olmstead Commission. In addition, they will be studying the state’s behavioral health system with a focus on improving access and availability to behavioral health care.

Information Technology.  Rep. Cory Mock – Chair. This committee will monitor all major technology initiatives of the State. ITD will report on their cybersecurity initiatives along with their unification initiative. The committee will also receive the biennial report on Emergency Services Communications (9-1-1).

Judiciary.  Rep. Larry Klemin – Chair. This committee has a long list of studies of county interest. Key studies include the implication of a potential initiated measure to legalize marijuana, study the state’s civil commitment laws, study the juvenile justice process and receive reports on the state’s medical marijuana program. In addition, this committee will receive a new report from the Attorney General summarizing the activity of any civilly forfeited property. The report was part of an overhaul to the civil asset forfeiture code lawmakers approved in 2019.

Legacy Fund Earnings.  Rep. Chet Pollert – Chair. This is a newly created committee made up of legislative leadership and members of the appropriations and tax committees. This committee’s sole purpose is to study the potential uses of legacy fund earnings.

Natural Resources.  Sen. Robert Erbele – Chair. This committee will focus its efforts on furthering the discussion on access to public and private lands. As part of their study they will work with ITD and G&F to establish a trial electronic posting and hunter access information system in up to three counties.

Taxation.  Rep. Jim Grueneich – Chair. This committee will be exploring the feasibility and desirability of applying an alternative or additional tax on liquid nicotine and e-cigarettes. The committee will also study options for replacing special assessments with revenue from other funding sources. In addition, the committee will receive reports from the Tax Department of statewide property tax increases.

Water Topics Overview.  Rep. Jim Schmidt – Chair. This committee will look at the feasibility of the water resource boards in each drainage basin forming a joint water resource board to plan and construct water conveyance projects based on basin wide needs.

Visit www.legis.nd.gov for the interim committee calendar and meeting agendas.