Friday, January 15, 2021

*WATCH* NDACo Legislative Video Update - Week 2 Review

 NDACo highlights some of the county related issues tackled in Week 2 of the ND Legislative Session. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update Jan. 14th

NDACo Legislative Update for Week 2 - January 14th, 2021

There was an uptick in activity this week as more and more bills are “dropped” into the process. Everyone expects next week to be very busy, with over-full hearing schedules for all committees. The technology for remote viewing and remote participation has had some glitches, but overall have allowed for clear, understandable testimony.

Two of the most significant things this week for counties were actions that DIDN’T happen. An extensive bill (HB1115) to rewrite county, city and township feedlot zoning authority, moving oversight to the Agriculture Commissioner, was withdrawn. Likewise, a second proposal to greatly increase local government liability limits, SB2129. Both had challenges for counties that would have taken significant effort to address, so this was very good news.

Monday’s hearing on HB1116, was quick and had no opposition. This bill expands the use of the county capital improvement ten mill (20 with vote) levy to include roads and bridges and permits counties to borrow against both their road levies and their capital improvement levies. The committee gave it an immediate 13-1 ‘Do Pass’ recommendation and it was passed on the House floor by 64-26.

The rest of Monday and Tuesday was spent mostly seeking sponsors for county bills, and monitoring some of the “big political issues” like the debate regarding the Governor’s emergency powers.

Wednesday brought some major agency appropriation bills, including the OMB budget which the Governor would like to ultimately contain his version of the infrastructure bonding proposal. A small piece in that budget is the continued state support for public administrators, which NDACo explained and supported.

The House Judiciary held a hearing on the bill (HB 1112) worked on by the Sheriff’s and Deputies’ Association regarding NDDOCR's “inmate prioritization plan.” The existing statutory authority allows DOCR to keep state-sentenced inmates in county jails. This bill says DOCR must enter into an agreement with counties if they need to house state-sentenced inmates in local facilities. The agreement would include DOCR paying for housing and medical costs. NDACo, Sheriff Kelly Leben and Sheriff Jahner testified in support. DOCR testified in opposition. The committee seemed receptive to the bill but did not discuss or take action on HB 1112. 

A bill initiated by county Auditors (HB1108) seeks to remove the requirement to publish county expenditures was heard Thursday in the House Political Subdivisions Committee. This proposal was unsuccessful last session, but with the many changes in the publication cycles for newspapers, we feel there may be more of an appetite for change.

Friday, NDACo will be asking the Senate Transportation committee to support a primary seatbelt law which is SB 2121.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

67th Legislative Session Off to Smooth Start

Week 1 NDACo Legislative Report - 1/8/21

The hustle and bustle of a Legislative Session is definitely felt in the Capitol. The energy is high and committees are getting to work fast! Committee hearing rooms look much different as they have been moved into larger rooms and are equipped with cameras and big tv screens. Seating in the hearing rooms has been dramatically reduced. The new system to submit testimony had some hiccups but for the most part has been a good addition to allow folks to testify remotely. You can submit written or oral testimony using their new system but you need to have it submitted an hour before the hearing. The technology also provides for you to view hearings remotely. Click here to see the step by step instructions for submitting testimony or watching hearings. 

Highlights from Week 1 include: 

Infrastructure / Bonding Proposal
- Legislators laid out a proposal for a $1.1 billion infrastructure package funded by Legacy Fund earnings. The proposal includes $170.9 million bond to cover city and county infrastructure projects that would have been funded by oil and gas tax revenues. It also includes funding for water projects, a carbon capture project, and the State Hospital. 

Human Service Zone Correction bill - Terry Traynor along with Human Service Zone Directors Kim Jacobson and Steve Reiser provided testimony outlining a number of items that should be addressed in the Department of Human Service bill to include: indirect costs, reserve fund balances, and compensation equity. The committee is committed to working with the zone directors, the department and NDACo on the suggestions. 

Increasing Liability Caps - NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor provided testimony supporting the Office of Management and Budget proposal which would raise the liability caps for the state adn political subdivisions from $250,000 to $375,000 per person and from $1 million to $1.5 million per occurrence. NDACo agreed that, based on court decisions, governmental liability caps need to be reviewed as the existing individual caps have been in place since originally established in the 1970's  The OMB proposed change is the result of an interim research effort by the State Risk Pool and NDIRF in response to much larger increases proposed in 2019.  

Road Train Pilot project - NDACo along with Cass County Engineer Jason Benson provided solid opposition to the proposal without local control or authority. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Burgum says State of State is one of optimism and new beginings

Governor Doug Burgum delivered his State of the State Address today to North Dakota citizens. The news release which highlights his speech is below. But it is important to highlight that he singled out and expressed his deepest gratitude for county commissioners and local elected leaders for their efforts to fight and respond to the coronavirus.

BISMARCK, N.D. (JAN. 5, 2021) – Gov. Doug Burgum today delivered his 2021 State of the State Address, reflecting on the substantial progress and historic challenges of the past year and calling for bold action and investments in infrastructure and other priorities to position North Dakota for an even brighter future.

Addressing a joint session of the 67th Legislative Assembly on the first day of its biennial session, Burgum noted North Dakotans have experienced much this past year, enduring “a flock of black swan events” including flooding, drought, the ongoing global pandemic, market crashes and major economic contractions that tested citizens in ways no one could have expected.

“Yet, as we look forward together to the 2021-23 biennium, it is clear that we are well-positioned to rebound and recover, thanks to the courage, the grit, the ingenuity and the resiliency of North Dakotans,” Burgum said. “Today, the State of the State is one of optimism and new beginnings, built on the confidence of overcoming adversity and the knowledge that we will emerge stronger than ever.”

Highlighting the state’s continued population growth, Burgum cited the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual estimate released last week that listed North Dakota’s population at a record 765,309 as of July 1, 2020. The state expects to receive its official 2020 decennial census count in the spring.

With interest rates at historic lows, Burgum emphasized the opportunity to bond for roads, bridges, career and technical education centers, and other immediate, one-time infrastructure projects, and to create a $700 million revolving loan fund to provide low-cost financing for current and future generations of projects. Burgum noted the $1.25 billion bonding proposal in his executive budget would not raise taxes or rely on tax revenues to retire the bonds, instead using a portion of earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund.

“We have a historic opportunity to invest in infrastructure, diversify the economy, build healthy, vibrant communities, support research and innovation, transform government and build true legacy projects for the prosperity of North Dakotans for generations to come,” Burgum said. “We can set our state on a positive trajectory by leveraging the ingenuity and resources of the private sector and harnessing the power of the Legacy Fund. And we can accomplish all of this with a fiscally conservative state budget that holds the line on general fund spending, invests in our priorities and maintains healthy reserves, all without raising taxes.”

To ensure that the state’s public higher education institutions have the tools they need to serve students and succeed in a rapidly changing environment, Burgum asked the Legislature, North Dakota University System, and State Board of Higher Education to join in a study and development of a permanent Higher Education Stabilization and Transformation Fund for North Dakota Public Institutions, with the goal of initiation and implementation by 2024.

“This fund should be used to stabilize higher education funding, finding ways to drive growth and incentivize increased public-private partnerships and investment in 21st century education models,” Burgum said.

The governor also highlighted progress made on the administration’s efforts to reinvent government services to make them more effective and efficient, including the new Unified Spill Reporting System he announced today. A working group led by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and supported by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, began planning the Unified Spill Reporting System in 2018. The result, which launched Friday, is a simplified, one-stop reporting system for hazardous materials spills, eliminating the need for producers and the public to report spills to multiple state agencies.

“Through increased collaboration and unified reporting, our state agencies are now better prepared to protect North Dakota’s water, air and soil,” Burgum said.

The governor shared optimism for North Dakota’s rebounding agriculture and energy sectors and the need to support the state’s all-of-the-above approach to energy development. He proposed additional investments in behavioral health services and upgrading information technology systems, highlighted investment and growth in the state’s UAS industry and advocated for the development of more economically sound cities that maximize the use of existing infrastructure and strive to create healthy, vibrant communities and limit property tax growth.

Burgum expressed his deepest gratitude for North Dakota citizens, businesses, state agencies, federal and local partners and others for their efforts to fight the coronavirus, and especially for the frontline health care workers, first responders, educators and others who have worked tirelessly to care for others and adapt to the incredibly challenging pandemic conditions.

North Dakota continues to rank among the top three states in COVID-19 testing per capita and currently ranks third in the nation in the number of people per capita initiating vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 24,000 North Dakotans have received their first dose of the vaccine so far.

Burgum recognized the important role that Fargo-based biotech company Aldevron has played in the vaccine development, welcoming as special guests founding CEO and Executive Chairman Michael Chambers, current CEO Kevin Ballinger, Senior Manager of Client Relations Matt Krusen and Technical Operations Manager Angelica Meyer.

“Fortunately, we have new tools at our disposal to fight COVID, with effective vaccines, rapid tests that help screen out asymptomatic positives and break the chain of transmission, and effective therapeutics that can drastically improve survival rates when administered at the right time,” Burgum said. “This battle is far from over. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve got the tools to get us there.”

The governor also recognized special guest Mandy Nelson, whose late husband, Grand Forks Police Officer and North Dakota National Guard 1st Lt. Cody Holte, was killed in the line of duty on May 27, 2020, while responding to a shooting incident.

“Officer Holte selflessly dedicated his life to protecting his community, his state and his country,” Burgum said, adding, “Cody’s legacy of service will live on forever in the hearts and minds of North Dakotans.”

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Monday, January 4, 2021

67th Legislative Session Starts Tuesday

Tuesday is the start of a legislative session like no other we have experienced. There is a lot of anticipation and uncertainty felt by lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists and the public as we kick off the North Dakota 67th Legislative Session. 

The technology advances made in preparation are also like no other. Lawmakers will be able to provide floor speeches and vote remotely as the Senate and House chambers have new video monitors installed. In addition, each committee room is equipped with web cameras and audio. Citizens will be able to watch a hearing live or after it occurred. Better yet, individuals will have the opportunity to testify remotely if they feel uncomfortable or are unable to attend the hearing in person.

ND counties have the ability to more easily connect with legislators and the issues that impact them. For those who want to submit testimony remotely, there will be a link attached to the hearing schedule. You will need to pre-register an hour before the hearing and are asked to upload testimony or supplemental documents. If you plan to deliver oral testimony, you are encouraged to submit written testimony as well. Registering to deliver oral testimony for a bill does not guarantee you will be allowed. It will be up to the chairman to balance the time constraints and the number of people who may indicate they desire to testify, whether that is in person or remotely.

Committee rooms have been moved around to allow for more room. Citizens will be allowed to attend committee meetings in person with seating spread out to allow for physical distancing. The Capitol entrance also has a face lift to make it more accessible. There is also a COVID-screening device at the doors to take your temperature and have you answer three questions.

We request our county members to let the NDACo legislative team know if you are interested in attending a hearing in person or if you plan to deliver testimony written or oral to the committee. We will walk you through the steps. 

“ND counties feel optimistic about the discussions being held prior to the Session regarding infrastructure funding and bonding,” said Traynor. “There may be a couple options proposed; but from what we have seen, these proposals align with the priority counties have for road funding. It is a priority for legislative leadership; they recognize the road needs are great in our counties and the importance of delivering funding counties can use for the next construction season.”

Follow the NDACo Legislative Blog,, for legislative updates throughout the session. Make sure you have subscribed to receive email updates. You’ll also want to bookmark, which is the landing page for all things legislative.

A few bills of note for this week relate to a road train pilot project and liability caps for political subdivisions. You can view the full schedule of hearings scheduled for this week by clicking on the graphic below to view the schedule for this week.