Tuesday, October 25, 2022

NDACo Members Approve Resolutions for 2022

Members of both the North Dakota Association of Counties Association and the North Dakota County Commissioners Association approved resolutions at the recent NDACo Annual Conference. These resolutions drive policy direction to NDACo's legislative team for the upcoming Legislative Session. 

2022 RESOLUTIONS BY

THE NORTH DAKOTA ASSOCIATION OF COUNTIES AND THE NORTH DAKOTA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ASSOCIATION

2022-01. Shelter Care Support. Research strongly supports treating youth who are considered “Children in Need of Services” (i.e., runaways or ungovernable behavior) but have not otherwise committed a crime with a different approach than the traditional arrest and detention. Such youths should be provided a safe shelter but not co-housed with youth who have committed potentially serious crimes.  However, such separation causes additional expenses to counties and other local governments. This Association supports additional State funding to ensure shelter care is fully funded on a reimbursable basis for counties from the time such youth is placed in the shelter care facility. New Resolution

2022-02. Support for and Study of Clerk of Courts Structure. The North Dakota Association of Counties recognizes the importance of the Clerk of Court offices throughout the State of North Dakota as a point of public access to the Court system. This system has been in place since approved by the 1999 North Dakota Legislature. NDACo remains committed to keeping the existing contract Clerk of Courts offices in the employ of the counties under current law, as per Chapter 27-05.2 of the North Dakota Century Code. NDACo believes that all existing Clerk of Court offices are a valuable resource to the general public in the counties in which they serve. The transition of contract county offices to State offices, without further study, could potentially limit public access to the court system and create a substantial financial impact to the State and county. The Association supports the current clerk structure and request that the Legislature authorize an interim study of the Clerks of Court to receive full input and effect that would be occasioned by changes made to existing law. New Resolution

2022-03. Public Health Funding. A robust public health system is imperative to all North Dakota citizens. The recent pandemic highlights the personal sacrifices those in the public health sector are willing to undertake to keep citizen’s safe. However, public health is increasingly called on to perform many services which stretch resources thin. Additionally, based on the historical nature of how health units were created and the potential disparity in political subdivision funding, health services are subjected to funding uncertainties. This Association supports identifying public health core services and requests the legislature study the delivery of public health services to ensure the overall operation and funding mechanisms are in place to carry out this important mission. New Resolution

2022-04. Support for North Dakota North Dakota’s Coal Industry. Coal-based power plants generate more than 60 percent of the electricity consumed in the state, and export additional power throughout the upper Midwest. This baseload capacity is vitally important to maintaining the reliability of the electric grid and is crucially important for the State’s residences and industries. The association supports legal, regulatory and financial solutions that will for all energy resources maintain baseload generation assets and integrity of the electrical grid. New Resolution

2022-05. Law Enforcement training fund. Law Enforcement is an essential function of Government. Well trained and educated officers are critically important for the safety and well-being of all North Dakota citizens. Political subdivisions bear the expenses for students to attend the Law Enforcement Training Academy which upon successful completion of their training allows them to perform law enforcement functions in their communities. However, many officers after short periods of time move onto larger law enforcement agencies which places an undue burden on the smaller jurisdictions to continuously pay for training. This association supports the creation of a State funded law enforcement training academy fund to relieve counties from this fiscal burden. New Resolution

2022‐06. Human Service Zone Team Member Equity Compensation. North Dakota Counties recognize that human service zone team members are county employees yet are subject to state appropriations for operational costs including salary and host-county offered benefits. In addition, North Dakota Counties recognize the Department of Health & Human Services and the Legislature’s outstanding commitment to social services redesign and the development of human service zones. Understandably, such significant changes require further adjustments over time as additional information becomes available. For efficient and effective administration, total compensation equity across the entire human service delivery system must be improved. This association supports legislative efforts and the accompanying funding to provide equity across all human service zones. New Resolution

2022-07. NDSU Extension Service Support.  NDSU Extension is recognized as providing valuable services for the citizens throughout North Dakota.  The Extension funding model represents a valuable partnership between the State and Counties with the State supporting agent’s salaries while the county supports staffing and other direct and indirect costs. However, over the years the State’s salary contribution for agents has not kept pace with other costs creating inequalities. This Association supports increased State contributions for Extension Agents. Update of Resolution 2018-10

2022-08. Centrally Assessed Property Valuation.  Counties are required to issue estimated tax notices by August 31st which include preliminary budget data for all political subdivisions. Certain properties are not assessed at the local level and require the State Tax department to work with those property owners to provide the actual value to the county. Counties, and all other taxing entities, depend on the accuracy of centrally assessed properties when computing their budgets. Therefore, it is paramount this information is complete and reported to counties by July 1st. This Association urges the strengthening of the valuation process for centrally assessed properties so that accurate values are established and delivered to counties in a user-friendly format utilizing taxing district information prior to preliminary budgets being set in order to achieve the greatest level of taxpayer fairness. Update of Resolution 2018-09

2022-09. Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN). As the SIRN project continues its buildout across the state of North Dakota local jurisdictions are realizing an increased cost for the equipment required. Currently, the state provides a $1500 cost reimbursement for radios. The cost of radios in greater than first estimated in addition law enforcement are required to utilize radios with encryption these factors have increased the financial commitment for local government. Currently less than 25% of the radios have been purchased by local government. This Association recognizes the need for all emergency responding agencies to utilize the equipment for the vitality of this project. Therefore, this Association encourages additional State support for radio units that have previously been purchased for the program as well as for future radio purchases. Additionally, past experiences with upgraded radio projects have created gaps in coverage specifically in rural areas. This Association requests at least a 90% coverage guarantee in all counties before such a system can be fully implemented. Update of Resolution 2020-10

2022-10. Behavioral Health. Lack of behavioral health and chemical dependency treatment programs or access to transportation to existing programs places a significant burden on county services. Behavioral Health services need to be available in all areas of this State including rural areas outside of the population centers. County jails should not be de facto behavioral health service providers. This Association supports increased State funding for fair and competitive compensation for State behavioral health professionals, for the delivery of behavioral health services for the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections, and to preapproved private behavioral health providers to ensure those seeking help or those on probation/parole have access to substance abuse and mental health services. Update of Resolution 2019-05

2022-11. Support for NDSU Extension Parenting Classes. District Courts have recognized the value of ordering certain individuals to receive parenting classes which NDSU extension is able to provide. However, counties are in many instances responsible for offsetting much of this cost. This Association supports additional State funds to support Court ordered NDSU Extension parenting classes.71 New Resolution

2022-12. Gross Production Tax Road Mill Requirement. North Dakota’s oil and gas resources are not subjected to property tax and are instead subjected to tax at the State Level. Historically, those taxes are shared with the local political subdivisions through the Gross Production Tax formula under NDCC 57-51-15. However, counties are required to levy 10 road mills in order to receive their share of the revenue regardless of whether such funds are needed. This Association supports the elimination or reduction of the GPT road mill levy requirement. New Resolution

 


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Legislative Update - Special Session Summary and Interim Committees

Special Session Review

Highlights from the 5-day Special Session November 8-12 includes:

Redistricting – 47 Legislative Districts (16,500 residents)
New Map here: https://www.legis.nd.gov/files/district-maps/2023-2032/finalmaphb1504.pdf
  • 3 new districts – Williams (23) McKenzie, Dunn (26) & Fargo (10)
  • Subdistricts – 2 Representatives, one from each subdistrict. 1 Senator from combined district.
    • 4A & 4B (Fort Berthold Reservation)
    • 9A & 9B (Turtle Mountain Reservation)
  • Five even numbered districts have 25% or more new voters = election in 2022                 (Districts 8,20,28,36& 44)
  • All odd numbered districts up in 2022
Infrastructure Funding (state ARPA funds)

 $100 million to counties for road and bridge construction
  • $80 million distributed directly to counties in January based on Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (UGPTI) needs study formula.
    • Cap of $3 million (Six counties capped: Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, McKenzie, Ward & Williams)
  • Cap results in $4.65 million being combined with additional $20 million for county bridge projects to be distributed by NDDOT through application process.
  •  $200 million to NDDOT, as well as $135 million in federal fund authorization.
  • $17 million to Townships (half will go out by road miles, half shared equally in non-oil counties.
Other ARPA funding priorities that matter to counties
Started with $9 Billion in requests for $1.1 Billion in ARPA fund
  • $150 million natural gas pipeline from western to eastern ND
  • $75 million for water projects
  • $3 million remodel of Law Enforcement Training Academy
  • $4.6 million SIRN radios for Highway Patrol & DOCR
COVID-19 Vaccination
  • No Government entity can require proof of vaccination or antibodies or inquire about an individual’s recovery status for access to property, funds or services.
  • The government may not require a private business to obtain documentation certifying individual vaccination status, antibodies or recovery status.
  • Businesses are prohibited from requesting covid-19 status prior to patrons entering.
  • Department of corrections, correctional facilities, the state hospital, healthcare providers and local public health units may ask vaccination status to provide appropriate measures are taken for staff and clients.
  • There are multiple exemptions available for employees who are required to be vaccinated.

NDACo 2021-22 Interim Legislative Activities

The following summarizes the key studies that may ultimately affect counties.

Acute Psychiatric Treatment (new committee)
  • Study the acute psychiatric hospitalization, residential treatment and support needs of individuals with mental health illness.
    • Study to include: reviewing options for long-term plan or psychiatric hospitalization; options to replace State Hospital with other facilities; the future use of facilities at the State Hospital campus; recommendation for new State Hospital.
  • Study the behavioral health needs of incarcerated adults.
    • Input will be sought from law enforcement & local officials.
  • Study the implementation of expanded behavioral health services.
  • Capacity & utilization of State Hospital
  • Behavioral health bed management system
Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee
Report of interest:
  • ND Department of Transportation to report on the Road Train Pilot Program
    • Before 8/1/22 DOT shall report findings and recommendations of its study on pilot projects on the feasibility and impact of long combination vehicle operations & legislative recommendations for implementation
    • UPDATE: DOT issued request for application in long combination vehicle pilot study from the transportation industry. No applications were submitted, therefore, DOT will not conduct study. 
Budget Section
  • Authorization of use of federal funds
  • Reports of interest:
    • DOCR report on prison population management plan and inmate admissions; including number not admitted after sentencing
    • DOT report on fund transferred from general fund to highway fund
Retirement Committee (new committee)
Develop a plan for new hires under the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to participate in the defined contribution plan and to close the define3d benefit plan to new employees effective 1/1/2024.
  • Use of third-party contractor to assist in study
  • Committee approved RFP draft for consultant
  • Input from political subdivisions on impact
  • Received information in October from several states that have transitioned from defined benefit to a defined contribution retirement plan
  • Legislative Council Summary
Employee Benefits Programs Committee
Review legislative measures & proposals affecting public employees retirement programs (PERS) and health and retiree health plans.

Government Finance Committee
  • Study of state agency fees.
  • Study the recruitment, retention, turnover and training of law enforcement and correctional officers employed by state and political subdivisions.
  • County officials including Sheriffs & Jail Administrators will be involved.
  • Review state budget information
  • BND to report on status of infrastructure revolving loan fund, the legacy infrastructure loan fund and the water infrastructure revolving loan fund.
Health Care Committee
  • Study solutions to barriers to access and utilize telehealth services in the state.
  • Study the feasibility & desirability of implementing a community health worker program.
  • Study prescription drug pricing and importation.
  • Sheriffs weighed in on importation concerns during legislative session.

Human Services Committee
  • Study issues related to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and human service zones employee compensation.
  • Reports of interest:
    • Report from DHS on process to allow a human service zone to opt in to state employment.
    • Report from DHS on process to calculate payment for indirect costs.
    • Report on status of merger of state Department of Health into DHS.

Information Technology Committee
  • Study costs incurred by the Information Technology Department (ITD) to deliver core technology services & cybersecurity services to state agencies & political subdivisions.
  • Reports on:
    • Coordination of services with political subdivisions
    • Statewide Longitudinal Data System Committee recommendations related to data sharing governance
    • Emergency Services Communications Coordinating Committee (ESC3) regarding use of the assessed communications services fee revenue along with recommendations for operating standards for emergency services communications (dispatchers).
Judiciary Committee
  • Study the juvenile justice process and collaborate with the Commission on Juvenile Justice.
  • Study the necessity of licensing shelter care programs for youth and ability for youth to access temporary shelter.
  • Study factors contributing to nation’s firearm and ammunition shortage and impact.
  • Reports of interest:
    • Annual report from Attorney General summarizing civilly forfeited property.
    • Medical marijuana program
    • Indigent defense contract system and public defenders
    • Expected costs to provide legal counsel and services to juveniles
Legacy & Budget Stabilization Fund Advisory Board
Develop recommendations for the investment of funds in the legacy fund and the budget stabilization fund to present to the State Investment Board.

Legacy Fund Earnings Committee
Study potential uses of legacy fund earnings

Legislative Audit & Fiscal Review Committee
Determine when the State Auditor is to perform audits of political subdivisions
Order the State Auditor to audit or review the accounts of any political subdivision

Natural Resources Committee
  • Continue study of access to public & private lands for hunting, trapping, fishing & related issues.
  • Study must include evaluating electronic land access database and application & expansion of database and application to all counties.
    • Jason Horning, NDACo - Next Generation 9-1-1 Program Manager, serves on this committee as a citizen member.
Redistricting Committee
Committee developed a legislative redistricting plan to be implemented for use in 2022 primary election. 

Taxation Committee
Report from Tax Commissioner of property tax increases in state.

Water Drainage Committee
Study and propose legislative changes to eliminate redundancy and conflicts in state code and to provide for uniform assessment procedures for all water projects; study and recommend procedures to appeal water resource board decisions; improve water resource board accountability.
Committee includes participation from:
Jeff Frith, Ramsey County Commissioner
Sharon Lipsh, Former Walsh County Highway Supt.

Water Topics Overview Committee
Report of interest: Onsite Wastewater Recycling Technical Committee to submit report on the status of the statewide technical guide and the committee’s recommendations.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Legislative Management Prioritizes Studies for Interim

The Legislative Management Committee met Wednesday to consider and prioritize the legislative studies to be addressed this interim. The Legislature passed 13 studies that are “required” by the language to be included in the study process. Additionally, they passed 72 “optional” studies that they were to “consider studying.” From this group, the Committee ultimately prioritized those to actually be studied. With the studies prioritized, the interim committees will now be formed around similar topics, and we will start to see committee assignments, and ultimately, committee meeting dates.

 

In the Required category, there are several of county interest, including:
  • HB1209, to develop a plan for new hires under the NDPERS retirement system to participate in a defined contribution plan and to close the defined benefit plan.
  • HB1380, to study potential uses of the legacy fund earnings, including tax relief, research, economic growth, and workforce development.
  • HB1397, to develop a legislative redistricting plan (This will of course impact county election precinct development).
  • SB2036, to continue the previous interim study of access to public and private lands for hunting, trapping, fishing, and related issues.
  • SB2086, to study issues related to DHS and human service zone employee compensation.
  • HB1012, in depth study related to mental health and the State Hospital future. 

Of the “optional” studies, the following “county related” studies were selected:
  • HB1036, to study the juvenile justice process.
  • SB2161, to study expanded behavioral health services, capacity and utilization of the State Hospital and a behavioral health bed management system. 
  • HB1470, to study behavioral health needs of incarcerated adults. 
  • HB1494, to study the recruitment, retention, turnover, and training of law enforcement and correctional officers.
  • SB2021, to study the costs incurred by NDIT to deliver core technology and cybersecurity services to state agencies and political subdivisions.
  • SB2208, to study North Dakota water laws.
  • HCR3014, to study solutions to access and utilization of telehealth services. 
  • HCR3015, to study the implementation of a community health worker certification program.
The full list of studies discussed can be viewed here: Legislative Management Interim Studies

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

https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/67-2021/testimony/HGVA-2046-20210319-11541-N-COUNCIL_LEGISLATIVE.pdf

SB2046 Proposed “Streams” Diagram

https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/67-2021/testimony/HGVA-2046-20210319-11542-N-COUNCIL_LEGISLATIVE_Co.pdf

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.