Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Update for Tuesday, January 22nd

The Senate voted to reconsider the primary seat belt bill Tuesday. The bill failed 23-23 Monday with Senator Scott Meyer absent. Meyer requested the bill be reconsidered Tuesday. Meyer, who is a sponsor of the bill told his colleagues about an incident 20 years ago when he was driving a farm truck. "It was a very hectic time, I got in the truck and started driving and didn't put my seat belt on. But then a voice in my head told me to buckle up. Moments later, I rolled the vehicle. That seat belt saved my life, and because of that I have the opportunity to vote here today."
After some debate about regulating safety and personal freedoms, the Senate passed SB 2060 with a vote of 24-23. The bill will move the House.

NDACo along with members of the transportation coalition supported a SB 2288 to increase the gas tax 7 cents from 23 to 30 cents. "This increase will bring enhanced revenue with a much greater degree of certainty to future funding – allowing counties to more effectively plan and program improvements for greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness," testified NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor.

Some of the other hearings we have been involved in recently include...

NDACo provided supporting testimony for HB1356 which raises the bid threshold on public works and public improvements from $150,000 to $250,000 as well as the threshold for professional services from an architect or engineer to that same amount.  Other testimony in support of the bill was given by the League of Cities and Department of Corrections, as well as other city folks, all who felt the $150,000 threshold did not work for the current costs on projects that are typically needed repairs that don’t require the additional expense an engineer or architect.  Opposition to the bill came from contractors and the American Council of Engineering who felt that bidding construction and professional services should be treated separately.  Amended language has been offered that provides that no expenditure threshold would apply for construction of public improvements when the expertise of an architect or engineer is required to protect the health, safety or welfare of the public.

HB1212 changes the makeup of a County Fair Association board from being residents of the counties in their association to residents of the state.  The bill sponsor, Representative Gary Kreidt (R-33), supported the change stating that it is difficult to fill voluntary boards and that some counties have combined with other counties and some have filled boards with members outside their county.  Opposition testimony came from Morton County Commissioner Andy Zachmeier and former County Commissioner and Legislator Jim Boehm, along with Morton County Auditor, Dawn Rhone.  Fair Boards are not appointed by County Commissioners but are funded with county general fund dollars, causing the committee to question the board consisting of members not in the county. 

SB2189 passed unanimously out of committee and changes the deadline for city and county boards of equalization from the second Tuesday in April to the first fifteen days of April.  The bill was approved with an amendment adding back the language that an assessor who performs duties for two or more cities or townships can hold the equalization meetings for those jurisdictions any day in the month of April.

NDACo testified in opposition to SB2174 which would require water resource district board members to be elected rather than appointed by the county commissioners.  Supporters referenced a frustration with a lack of accountability from water board members who are not elected.  Opposition was heard from Red River Joint Water Board, Richland County Water Board, Burleigh County Water Resource District, and NDACo, all testifying that the oversight for appointed water boards is provided by the county commissioners that appoint them and that water resource boards enforce regulatory law and decisions are sometimes unpopular which would make it a challenge to find people to run.

Monday, January 21, 2019

House Tax Committee Hears Various Cap Proposals

The House Finance and Taxation spent Monday’s holiday reviewing five individual bills that proposed various caps and limitations on property values and taxes. Other than the prime sponsors, the bills had no one testifying in support, but well reasoned opposition from counties, cities, schools, realtors and home builders was presented.
1182 - Proposed a 3% cap on the growth of valuations. Minot Tax Assessor Kevin Ternes explained to the committee that this bill would create an unfair tax rates for property owners. Those living in a more expensive home in a highly desirable area would have a lower tax rate than a smaller home in an older part of town. NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor said this bill if passed could result in the shift of burden from one class to another; from residential to agriculture and commercial parcels. Committee chairman Craig Headland told his committee, "over the years we have seen every type of cap bill, we have learned that any time you start messing with the calculation, you create inequities with property taxes and an unfair system."
1221 - Proposes to extend the length of time from when a tax bill becomes due and when the property is subject to forfeiture from three years to five. Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir explained how the current process works well. "For homeowners, when they are three years behind they can still recover. The further they get behind the harder it becomes for them to stay in their home." He explained how counties work with citizens to help them make installments or find other solutions to pay the delinquent taxes. A majority of the delinquent properties are developer lots. 
1261 - Would provide the profits from foreclosure sales to go to the property owner instead of the county. NDACo provided testimony illustrating how this would be complicated. "Counties lose money on most tax foreclosures. Excess proceeds help offset the costs incurred by counties for insuring, cleaning, and demolishing properties that owners have abandoned.   North Dakota county auditors have expressed concern that it will be a challenge to determine who should be paid the excess proceeds in instances where the owner on record has died; where there are judgments, liens, or mortgages on the property; if the owner is a partnership or corporation; or when the owner of record cannot be found," explained NDACo Research Analyst Linda Svihovic. 
1390 - Would freeze increases in property taxes "What pay in dollars last year, would be what you pay this year. If a taxing jurisdiction wants to raise taxes, it will need to be voted on by the people," said bill sponsor Representative Mike Schatz.
Traynor questioned the need for this bill, citing a report provided during the interim that revealed 47 of the 53 counties have lowered property taxes in at least one of the last two years and 13 counties have lowered in both. "County officials believe this would result in no property tax decreases - ever," said Traynor. "As an elected official could not know if the next year, or the year after, would involve a snow emergency, a flood, or a protest, it would only be prudent to never lower taxes to ensure that any potential need three, five, or fifteen years down the road could be met and the county board had not jeopardized their citizens."
1487 - Proposes a property tax freeze for seniors living in a home. The freeze would apply against property taxes levied on the first $400,000 of true and full value of a primary residence. NDACo testified in opposition of this bill, stressing how this would shift taxes to other property taxpayers. 

The House Finance and Tax Committee met later Monday to discuss and vote on the bills. They gave HB 1182, HB 1221, HB 1261 and HB 1390 Do Not Pass recommendations. They did not take action on HB 1487. 

  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Recap of Gun and Marijuana Issues


Firearms and marijuana issues were heavy late last week at the Capitol. 
On the marijuana side many of the bills were attempts to either expand the types of conditions allowable for medical MJ (HB 1272) or provide the ability to grow your own plants (SB 2134). Most of the MJ bills received opposition because they would interfere with the State’s medical MJ program or they were too broad. (SB 2134 allowed everyone to grow 9 plants).

Thursday, the House Natural Resources committee took up 11 different gun bills. The bills ranged from specifically allowing bump stocks (HB 1308 & 1326 ) to allowing anyone to carry in a public building which include courthouses (HB 1325). There was also a bill making it an A misdemeanor if you do not sell a gun to someone who wants to buy one. (HB 1160) These bills brought out a lot of passion. We may see many of the issues blended into one a single bill and defeat those ideas that brought out the most opposition. The arguments on many of the bills were the balancing of property rights vs the 2nd amendment. The lobbyists from the business community objected on the principal that they should be able to sell or not sell or decide if they want armed folks in their business.
Also somewhat on the gun issue, although not scheduled HB 1537, the "red flag law" link to bill here: https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/66-2019/documents/19-0337-04000.pdf was introduced this week. We are seeking input from our State's Attorneys and Sheriffs. The concept has been adopted by many States in response to mass shootings. Feedback from States Attorneys around the country have said the process is not used often but works well in cases where someone has a mental health issue. Again the concept is similar to mental health proceedings that if someone is a danger to themselves or others you could commit not just them but their weapons. Of course this has brought out passion that this is just another attempt by big government to take peoples guns.

Finally on the positive side, HB 1216 which would have required counties to calculate the costs of incarceration and make that part of the prosecutors sentencing recommendation was WITHDRAWN.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Schedule for Week of January 21st

It was a very busy and important week for counties. We had a great showing of county folks to support the Social Service Redesign bill and the Operation Prairie Dog Infrastructure funding bill. You can read more on those hearings in previous blog posts.
The activity was very fast paced this week, and it is showing across the board. Legislative Council says they have drafted 1050 bills so far. Which is the the highest since 2009 and the 2nd highest since 1991. 

See the link to the schedule for the Week of January 21st. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1efZ6Q4E3aaM1Ubn71PlF1meppj55ICkg


Update on activity for Thusday, January 17th

The House Energy and Natural Resources committee had firearms related bills scheduled all morning and afternoon. The ND Sheriffs & Deputies Association monitored them and testified in opposition to HB 1325 which would allow anyone to carry a gun at a public gathering. Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser offered testimony in opposition to that bill as well.


SACCHO testified in opposition of SB 2137 which would allow cigar smoking on premises where purchased.  While emphasizing that establishment of a 100% smoke-free environment is the only effective way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, it was also stated that there is substantial research which has determined ventilation systems, as proposed in the bill to mitigate secondhand smoke, do not protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Local public health testified in support of SB 2012, the Department of Human Services (DHS) budget.  The Behavioral Health Division of DHS has been collaborating with local public health units (LPHUs) over the past few years on prevention efforts in several areas including adult and youth binge drinking, and underage drinking. The 28 LPHUs add more boots on the ground to aid in services for more prevention efforts and to help with the increasing demand for services.
SACCHO testified in opposition of SB 2137 which would allow cigar smoking on premises where purchased.  While emphasizing that establishment of a 100% smoke-free environment is the only effective way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, it was also stated that there is substantial research which has determined ventilation systems, as proposed in the bill to mitigate secondhand smoke, do not protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Local public health testified in support of SB 2012, the Department of Human Services (DHS) budget.  The Behavioral Health Division of DHS has been collaborating with local public health units (LPHUs) over the past few years on prevention efforts in several areas including adult and youth binge drinking, and underage drinking. The 28 LPHUs add more boots on the ground to aid in services for more prevention efforts and to help with the increasing demand for services.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Update on Wednesday Activity - January, 16th


HB1174 to make social security benefits non-taxable for state income tax was heard by House Finance and Tax Wednesday. The bill also contains a provision to exempt those benefits from the income threshold for the homestead property tax credit. That part of the bill however was inadvertently added in drafting and the sponsor sought its removal.

NDACo is monitoring HB1158 and HB1159. HB1158 proposes exempting a purchaser from the payment of use tax if a retailer fails to collect sales tax on purchases up to $50,000. Under current law, a purchaser is required to report and pay use tax on any transaction where the seller fails to collect sales tax. The change in the sales tax law during the last session, requiring internet sales vendors to register with the State Tax Department, collect and remit sales tax, did not address or include non-internet out of state sales. The Committee questioned whether the changes proposed in HB1158 would encourage ND shoppers to buy out of state in order to avoid paying sales tax if there were no requirement for the retailer or purchaser to pay. No action was take on the bill.

HB1159 would exempt contractors and subcontractors from paying a use tax on tangible personal property used in the performance of their contract, unless the contract terms require the contractor or subcontractor to purchase the property. Current law requires contractors to pay sales or use tax on taxable items used when performing their contract work if the owner of the property did not pay the tax at the time of purchase. No action was taken on the bill.

SB 2192 allows counties, by ordinance, to charge a 2% lodging and 1% food and beverage tax on motels and restaurants within the county where a city is not already charging the tax. The bill also requires the county imposing the tax to establish a county visitors’ promotion fund and visitors’ committee which will serve as an advisory committee to the board of county commissioners. Senator Brad Bekkedahl introduced the bill. He says Williams County has over 500 beds outside the Williston city limits that currently cannot charge the tax, and in turn, do not receive the benefits of the promotions the Williston CVB offers. An amendment is forthcoming that would allow counties and cities the option to enter into a joint powers agreement and establish one committee and one fund for both the city and county food and lodging tax to be administered. Williston, Dickinson, and Devils Lake CVBs as well as McKenzie County Tourism and State Tourism Director, Sara Otte Coleman, provided testimony in support of the bill and for the amendments in SB2193 introduced by Senator Wardner. SB2193 amends language in sales tax law to be consistent with current language in city lodging tax law. The Tax Department confirmed that AIRBNB entered into an agreement with the State Tax Department last spring to register and remit lodging and restaurant taxes on their ND properties which are subject to these taxes. The Tax Department also reported that three ND cities – Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot, collect their own lodging tax under their Home Rule Charters. The Committee did not take action on either SB2192 or the sister amendment bill SB2193, pending the additional amendments that are coming.
The House Appropriations sub-committee assigned the DOCR budget held a hearing Wednesday morning to allow for testimony from the Dakota Women's Correctional and Rehabilitation Center. This will be an item to watch as the Governor is supporting moving women inmates housed in New England to the minimum security prison, MRCC, in Bismarck.  
NDACo testified in opposition to SB 2134 which allows medical marijuana patients to grow marijuana at home. The opposition is centered around the amount of product allowed by this bill which is 3 ounces and 6 plants. 
On the floor, the House approved HB 1242 which allows those under 21 to be in a bar that serves food. The Senate defeated SB 2131 which said guns or gun accessories manufactured in North Dakota would not have to be federally registered. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Operation Prairie Dog Delivers Long-Term Infrastructure Funding Statewide




Certainty. One word that was emphasized repeatedly during the hearing on House Bill 1066 the infrastructure funding bill nicknamed “Operation Prairie Dog”. County and city folks from across the state filled the largest hearing room in the Capitol to lend their support on the bill. The line-up of those testifying in support was made up of county commissioners, a county engineer, city mayors, airport managers, along with agriculture and business groups.  Each supporter stressed the importance of a funding source that is certain, allowing cities, county and townships to plan projects into the future.  
“Every community in this state will benefit from this landmark transformative legislation,” said Representative Mike Nathe. “There are billions of dollars in infrastructure needs that need to be addressed now. This bill provides a solid, consistent revenue source that our political subdivisions can depend on.”
Nathe, who is the prime sponsor of the bill pointed out to the House Finance and Tax committee that this funding is for essential infrastructure only, which is defined in the bill as being: water treatment plants; wastewater treatment plants; sewer lines and water lines, including lift stations and pumping systems; water storage systems, including dams, water tanks, and water towers; storm water infrastructure, including curb and gutter construction; road and bridge infrastructure, including paved and unpaved roads and bridges; airport infrastructure; electricity transmission infrastructure; natural gas transmission infrastructure; and communications infrastructure.
Cities predict their needs for the largest cities at $4 billion in the next ten years. According to a recent Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute study, counties have about $8 billion in infrastructure needs over 20 years.
“The key component of this bill is the ongoing certainty. This allows our cities, counties and townships to plan out into the future the key projects they need. It also allows them to save their allocation so they can tackle a large project when they have the sufficient funds,” said Representative Todd Porter. “Most importantly there is no expiration date. This is a futuristic looking piece of legislation that gives the political subs the ability to plan. We have to be proactive and trust in them.”
Dunn County Commissioner Reinhard Hauck began his testimony by thanking legislators for the one-time funding that has been allocated in the recent past. “County commissioners are extremely grateful. The one-time funding for local roads have been significant in addressing the enormous unmet need for local road improvement.  This bill today will improve upon these efforts by bringing a degree of certainty to future funding – allowing counties to more effectively plan and program improvements for greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”
According to a recent UGPTI study, counties would need to make a $440 million investment annually to meet their road needs. While this isn’t a necessarily a bill to reduce property taxes, lawmakers say it will decrease special assessments and over time impact the burden on property taxes.  
“This proposal allows local boards to determine what their individual needs are, the project, the timeline, and implementation methods that works best in their communities with consideration for the other revenue sources available to them,” said Grand Forks Engineer Nick West. “What one County needs are, is different than another County.”
During the two hours of testimony, supporters drew committee member’s attention to the fact that in addition to the certain, long-term funding, another key highlight is that the funds are spread across the state in rural and urban areas, based on formulas.
No one testified in opposition to the bill.