Thursday, April 29, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update: Legislature Adjourns

The North Dakota Legislative Session wrapped up it's work late Thursday night/early Friday morning on Day 76. Conference committees have been meeting all week, working to reach agreements on Appropriations bills. The Legislature gave final action on a few bills summarized below.
  • The House and Senate both passed HB 1380, otherwise referred to as the Streams Bill, which included a $60 million stream for the highway distribution fund intended to begin next biennium.
  • The Senate killed SB2046 which sought to close the NDPERS Defined Benefit (DB) plan for new State Employees at the end of the biennium. The proposal separated the State and local government plans and did not force the closure of the DB plan for political subdivisions. It also included a a funded consultant’s study during the interim will identify the implications of this two both “halves” of the plan. The Senate defeated the bill, saying the issue should be studied and lawmakers should review the findings prior to making the decision to close the DB plan.
  • The final bill for reconciliation was the OMB Budget (HB 1015) which includes $20 million in township road support and an additional $100 million to the NDDOT for grants to road and bridge projects at all levels.
  • Lawmakers also gave final approval on HB 1253, a major election reform bill. The conference committee focused primarily on shortening the deadlines for post-election work. The biggest change is moving the county canvassing board meeting to 13 days after Election Day.  
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, commented at the conclusion that this was the toughest session he's been part of but proud of the work and the achievements of the 67th Legislative Session. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update: April 23

Legislators did not reach adjournment this week as they hoped. The disagreements are now fewer, but possibly more contentious. Also, as the news media has reported, the Governor vetoed three bills, which then requires both chambers to debate and vote all over again – all of which involves considerable time. Tuesday or Wednesday of next week is now more likely for adjournment “sine die”. Once we reach this milestone, your Legislative team will be working to compile and refine the results of the entire session to present at our Legislative Wrap-up on May 10th.

Last week’s new proposal for the NDPERS BILL (SB2046) for closing the NDPERS Defined Benefit plan consumed much of the week. Recognizing the strong opposition of local government to this unknown increase in unfunded liability, the final amendment DID NOT change the local government portion of NDPERS retirement.

The amendment ultimately adopted would close the Defined Benefit (DB) or pension plan to new STATE employees January 1, 2023. New state employees would be provided a defined contribution or DC retirement plan like a 401K. The amendment segregates the reserves and liabilities associated with state employees separately from those associated with local government employees. The amendment would appropriate $100 million and inject a “stream” of Legacy Fund interest to bolster the DB plan for those “legacy” state employees that would remain in the DB plan through retirement. An intensive study and actuarial analysis of both the state employee portion and the local government portion of the fund would be completed by November 1, 2021, so that the information would be ready for the Legislative redistricting session late this year. In the meantime, the local government employers and employees would see an increase in retirement contributions of ½% of salary each to move this part of the fund toward solvency. Should this bill pass, county officials will need to be very engaged in this study and analysis, as the Legislature will be looking to us (counties, cities, schools, parks) for direction for “our portion” of the retirement system.

Also, in the news this week, was the Governor’s signing of HB1341 that for the first time in a very long time authorizes a significant state bonding program. This concept would use a portion of Legacy Fund earnings (interest) to service a bond of $680 million, much of which would be used for major state water projects. The Governor explained that by getting these major projects “off the table”, the resources trust fund would be able to better fund the smaller water projects statewide – this fund is also enhanced by bond proceeds of $74.5 million. $50 million of the bond would go to enhance the infrastructure loan fund which is available to cities and counties and $70 million would go to NDDOT to leverage additional federal funds for road and bridge construction. The final $50 million of the bond would go to build the agriculture products development center at NDSU.

Still “hanging fire” is the “streams” proposal (HB1380) which includes the $64.3 million biennial injection into the Highway Distribution Fund. The Senate is very solid on retaining this stream, and the entire Transportation Coalition is working on increasing House support.

The Transportation Coalition has also been instrumental in the immediate township road support that was added to the OMB Budget (HB1015) in the Senate. The legislature recognized that townships in North Dakota do not qualify for federal Relief/Stimulus funding and have therefore proposed $5000/township for non-oil counties and then $20 million to NDDOT specifically for township road and bridge grants. Importantly, both parts of this funding would also go to counties on behalf of unorganized townships. There is considerable support for this in the House, and efforts continue to maintain it through the conference committee process.

The Governor held a bill signing event for HB1435 which provides health insurance to the spouse and children of an emergency responders who die in the line of duty. We had several Sheriffs and other first responders who attended the ceremony. 

The House approved the conference committee's work on SB2144, which made changes to the criminal trespass code. The bill now provides law enforcement officer who responds to the call of trespassing with options in dealing with the event and allows prosecutors options to charge based on the extent of the crime. 

House and Senate conference committee members met to review Senate floor amendments made to HB 1183 regarding onsite septic systems. Local public health units supported the amendment which provided equal representation on an onsite wastewater recycling technical committee comprised of Gubernatorial appointees from local public health and installers. The amendment replaced the House bill of three local public health representatives and four installers. A second amendment placing an end date on the bill was also supported by local public health. The final version lists the technical committee makeup of three local public health representatives, four installers and one licensed environmental health practitioner. The ending date was replaced with a report to Legislative Management before November 1, 2022. HB 1183 as amended was subsequently passed by both Chambers.

HB 1253
, the major election reform bill, was resolved in conference committee Thursday. County Auditors weighed in heavily on post-election deadlines that were dramatically shortened. The committee yesterday approved: changing the county canvassing board meeting date to 13 days after the election. The deadline to add new voters will be before the meeting of the canvassing board, or 13 days. And the deadline to post voter history is before the end of the contest period allowed under section 16.1-16-04 = if recount (18 days after the election) or (27 days after the election) if no recount.

Language offered in the Senate to help address unintended consequences of HB 1256 (which prohibits the use of nonpublic dollars for elections) was kept in the bill. Allowing counties to be allowed to use donations for use of facilities for polling places, food for poll workers and other nonmonetary donations that are not used to prepare, process, mark, collect or tabulate ballots or votes. However, violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor. 

The Secretary of State’s office requested the committee to include a penalty for Auditors not prepared for the canvassing as a Class A misdemeanor. We were successful in convincing the committee to not include that language.

Friday, April 16, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update: April 16th

More discussion than action this week, however we have seen resolution of several conference committees on county bills, discussed below.

But first, a major twist was introduced Thursday that will likely have an impact on reaching the end of the Session quickly.  Rep. Delzer floated a “hoghouse” amendment to SB2046 (NDPERS Contributions) that would essentially turn it into an “alternative streams bill”.   This proposal creates two very significant concerns for local government:

Ø  The amendment does NOT include a stream for the Highway Distribution Fund.  As discussed previously, the original “streams bill” (HB1380), would dedicate $64.3 million per biennium to the Highway Distribution Fund, for state, county, city, and township roads.  This amendment proposes a $60 million income tax buy-down with Legacy Interest instead.

Ø  This amendment is written to close the NDPERS defined benefit plan for state employees and devote general funds ($100 million) and an ongoing allocation of legacy interest stream ($40million/biennium) to addressing the unfunded NDPERS liability created for state employees (only).  Counties, cities, schools (for non-teacher employees) health districts, park districts, and other “non-state” NDPERS participating public employers would be segregated and directed to fend for themselves. 

While this addresses the NDPERS retirement transition that the Governor and many legislators support, it does this by eliminating highway funding and leaving local government to address an unquantified and unfunded NDPERS retirement liability with property taxes.

This amendment will have a hearing on Monday at 9:30 in the House GVA Committee.  We are urging all county officials to reach out to your house members, urging them to resist this concept.

SB2046 Proposed Amendment Summary

SB2046 Proposed “Streams” Diagram

In other news, the “Road Train” bill (SB2026) came out of conference committee as it went in, with local road authority control intact.  The conference committee report was rejected in the Senate due to a misunderstanding, so it went back to committee and was immediately returned to the floor in the same form where it was passed 39-6.

HB1199 is also headed to the floor in good shape.  This bill to redirect excess funds (if any) from a property tax foreclosure to the former owner was not supported by the counties due to its administrative difficulties.  It was improved before House passage, further approved in the Senate, and the conference committee continued the effort.  We believe it is now workable for county officials.

The effort to exempt property taxes on potato warehouses and grain elevators located on platted land in cities if owned by producers (SB2041) had been turned into a study by the House.  The Senate objected and a conference committee met several times before agreeing the topic needed study before enacting such a policy change.

SB2244, to increase Sheriff fees was resolved in conference committee this week as well. The fees got a small bump, essentially $10 more. These fees have not been adjusted in 20 years, so it was time to address them. Legislators signaled they would support looking at these fees again in a couple sessions. 

The bill traditionally held as the last bill of the session, the OMB Budget (HB1015), remains in the Senate for final corrections and additions.  It is expected hat this will be the vehicle to restore township road funding.  We, along with everyone else, will be watching this bill until the end.



Thursday, April 8, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update: April 9

This week Wednesday saw the first conference committee meeting to resolve House and Senate differences, and they have multiplied exponentially since. For those watching, these often have only an hour or so of notice, so periodically refreshing the conference committee link on the Legislative website is critical. This is an extremely important phase of the process, and we expect at least a dozen county priority bills will ultimately be resolved in conference.

The Bonding Bill (HB1431) took a very interesting turn this week. In round numbers, the House proposed bonding for almost $700 million – mostly for diversion/flood control projects. The Senate policy committee added amendments to increase the bonding to just over $1 billion, adding in several public building and energy projects, and notably $30 million for township roads – as they are ineligible for direct federal ARP (Relief) funding. The surprising move was action by the Senate Appropriations to send the committee back to the Senate floor, recommending that the Senate policy amendments be stripped off and the House version of the bill be sent directly to the Governor. Lots of discussion about some of the Senate priorities (including township roads) that fell off the table, and how state ARP funds, or other funding concepts may be leveraged.

The Streams Bill (HB1380) remains in Senate Appropriations, and still has $63.9 million in Legacy interest going into the Highway Distribution Fund. As this is an addition that the House did not consider, this will likely be a conference discussion, and we expect that a call for action will be made at some point to urge retaining this important piece.

You may recall that the Road Train Bill (SB2026) was amended in a manner requested by counties in the House, but as this has changed the Senate version significantly, a conference committee has been appointed to discuss their differences. If you are represented by the Senate conferees, (Senators Conley, Clemens, and Bakke) please urge them to support the House amendments that preserve county and township control of their own roadways.

HB1323, the bill to prohibit mask or face covering requirements, was voted on by the Senate on Wednesday. NDACo opposed it in its original form, focusing on its broad language that removed the ability of local government (as well as private employers) to mandate safety equipment within their operations. Counties were not alone in our opposition; cities, schools, medical facilities, and business organizations all provided testimony in opposition. Due to the response from local government and other constituents, the concerns recognized. Ultimately the Senate amended the bill to remove local government and business from the restrictions, leaving in place a prohibition on State officials issuing statewide mask requirements. The bill was then passed, although in a significantly altered form from the House version, so the battle may continue.

The final bill on our schedule to testify on was heard Thursday. HB 1253 is a massive, 80 page election reform bill. The Secretary of State's Office supported the bill and was involved in a majority of it's drafting. There are a few election related proposals that were defeated that have now made their way into the bill. NDACo supported the bill and offered further suggestions for amendments. The committee will continue to work on the bill Friday. 

The Senate acted on numerous firearm bills Thursday including a bill (HB 1498) that expands the state's "stand your ground" law to include any where an individual is legally authorized to be. The Senate passed 1498. They also approved HB 1383, which as proposed sought to prohibit local law enforcement from working with federal agents if firearms were involved. The committee worked on the bill following hearing testimony from law enforcement. The amended version approved in the Senate addressed the law enforcement concerns. The bill now accomplishes the intent of the bill to not allow local law enforcement to provide assistance to a federal agency in response to a federal order or statute that is more restrictive than state law unless the violation is related to: homicide, kidnapping, sex offenses, drug offenses, human trafficking or other felony offenses. This new language accomplishes the intent to not allow a federal order to impede on North Dakotan's 2nd amendment right but to also preserve the working relationship of federal, state and local law enforcement. 

No committee hearing schedule for next week as committees are done hearing bills. Committees will wrap up their work on the remaining bills to act on in committee and conference committee meetings and floor sessions will occupy most of the activity next week.  

Friday, April 2, 2021

NDACo Legislative Update: April 2nd

The legislature began appointing conference committees Thursday to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of some bills. This is what is commonly considered the start of the "Third Period" of the process. It is also a sign that the end is approaching. You will see very few hearings on the schedule. There are a number of firearm related bills scheduled in Judiciary and the final election reform bill will be heard in Senate GVA. You will see on the schedule that a great deal of it is appropriations committee work.

More time was spent in floor sessions this week, and quite a number of “county bills” reached final resolution. Some of the significant action included:

  • The defeat of the “culvert bill” as requested by the counties.
  • The return of the “road train” bill (SB 2026) to committee and the addition of language giving local road authorities control before passage. 
  • The amendment of the “potato warehouse exemption” was turned into a study.
  • A bill (SB 2142) initiated by the County Auditors to increase the days allowed to process absentee/mail ballots passed the House.
  • The Senate killed two election bills Auditors opposed. HB 1173 required the full text of measures on the ballot. HB 1373 decreased the days for early vote from 15 to 9 days. 
  • The Senate also defeated a bill (HB 1457) that would have required counties to renew emergency declarations/disasters at each regularly scheduled meeting.
  • The Senate approved a bill to provide health benefits for family members of a fallen officer. 
  • The House concurred on the changes the Senate made to HB 1112, which requires ND DOCR to pay for housing and medical costs of state-sentenced inmates when in the prioritization plan. This means the bill is on to the Governor for his signature!    

Click here to view schedule for next week. Included in this schedule is the listing of committee work. Bills scheduled for hearings are highlighted. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

*WATCH* NDACo Legislative Video Update for Week 12: March 26

Click to watch video highlighting action taken this week on county related bills. 

NDACo Legislative Update: March 26

 Plenty of action on county bills this week, below is a taste of some of the highlights.

  • County official efforts on SB2026 (road trains) were incredibly effective and the committee chair saw that the bill would be defeated, so he took it back to committee and amended it in three important ways. 
    • The 180’ pilot project truck length was changed to 130’ 
    • Impacts to traffic safety were included as a study element
    • A new subsection was added reading: “If a pilot project includes operating on county or township roads, an agreement with the local road authorities must be in place to address traffic safety consideration and costs directly attributed to the pilot project."
            As these amendments address the concerns raised by counties, we no longer oppose SB2026. 
  • HB1464 (Gas Tax) was given a divided (4/3) Do Not Pass recommendation from the Senate Committee, and will be up for vote in the Senate as soon as FRIDAY. This 3-cent increase (and modest increases to electric vehicle fees) would generate $48 million of which $9.6 million goes to county roads. County officials are being asked to CONTACT THEIR SENATORS AND URGE A YES VOTE ON HB1464
  • SB2324 (Culvert bill) was amended and given a strong (11/1) Do Not Pass recommendation, as requested by counties. This bill would shift considerable control from counties and townships to the state engineer over when culverts and bridges are replaced. We are urging county officials to CONTACT THEIR HOUSE MEMBERS AND ASK FOR A NO VOTE ON SB2324.
  • SB2041 (potato warehouse/elevator exemption) was heavily amended. The issue of exempting privately owned elevators and warehouses in cities was turned into a study, but the farm-residence exemption was added into the bill with a proposed change to consider machinery sales as farm income. We encourage all commissioners and tax directors can pull this bill up and take a look.
  • Senate Senate Political Subdivisions Committee heard testimony on HB 1183 relating to onsite septic systems. The bill came to the Committee amended by the House.  In addition to requiring public health units to adopt an onsite wastewater recycling treatment guide, the House amendment provided for the establishment of technical committee. Two Senate floor amendments included adding a local public health representative to the technical committee for even representation and also added an expiration date. The full Senate adopted the amendments and passed the bill which will be returned to the House. 
  • House bill 1152, the “cigar bar" bill was defeated on the Senate floor. This bill would have allowed exemptions to ND Smoke free law, exposing people to secondhand smoke. This law protects public health and promotes worker safety.
  • Despite heavy debate, SB2244, the bill to incrementally increase civil process fees by the Sheriff’s Office, was passed in the House 57/36. These fees have not increased in 20 years. 
  • Inmate reimbursement, HB1112passed the Senate with a unanimous vote. This bill will require DOCR to reimburse county jails for holding state-sentenced inmates if they must remain in a county facility due to state facility limitations. A big success for counties as this was a resolution and priority item. 
  • NDACo worked closely with the Senate Judiciary committee to improve an amendment that would have prohibited the release of booking photos until individuals are charged. While law enforcement concerns for the most part were addressed with the final amendment the Senate voted to kill the amendment on HB1294
  • Efforts to move to a primary seat belt law for all occupants in a vehicle failed in the House with the defeat of SB2121. The vote was close at 45-49. 
  • The Senate defeated HB1189, which would have placed a 3 hour deadline for election workers to return results to the Auditors office. Another election bill was also brought back for reconsideration on Monday. HB1198 sought to prohibit the Governor from using his executive order authority in restricting polling locations. The Senate passed the bill last Friday, reconsidered it on Monday and killed the bill. 

  • Also very notable, the Senate defeated HB1420 to legalize "adult use" marijuana, a companion bill that addressed the taxation of marijuana was also killed. 

Click here to view the hearing schedule for the upcoming week