Thursday, January 26, 2017

NDACo Legislative Schedule #5

NDACo Legislative Report #5

Thank you to everyone for the great participation this week.  So many county officials in the Capitol, and so many more emailing support and opposition on important county issues.  Your voice is truly being heard.

Previous blog posts this week already talked about the defeat of the election equipment appropriations and the extremely well presented testimony on the social service funding bill, SB2206.  The best part of the SB2206 hearing was that there were as many legislators and other organizations testifying in support as county people.  Adding to that Governor Burgum's inclusion of the proposal in his budget, things are (right now) looking positive for this measure.

More and more bills are heading to the floor, as Committees have a little more time to deliberate.  Two smaller, but significant, county issues received their first floor vote this week.

SB2178 expands the availability of the Bank of North Dakota's infrastructure loan fund.  As previously written, city infrastructure improvements were the only truly eligible projects.  With the changes approved in the Senate (45-0) this week, the program would be available to county road construction as well.

On the House floor this week, a bill debated for the last several sessions was passed for the first time.  HB1231 repeals the requirement that counties fund 50% of a quarterly newspaper advertisement for county extension services.  If this would also pass the Senate it would remove one small state mandate. Counties could still choose to publish such notices, but the requirement would be gone. The floor debate was interesting and the vote was 61-32.

Next week will finish up the largest share of "first hearings" on bills, as the length of the hearing schedule would suggest.  There will still be a few unheard, but the vast majority will have had their day in the sun.  Many, many county bills still are under debate in committee however, and watching the "committee work" will be priority one.  As any bill in a policy committee with a fiscal impact to the state must be rereferred to the Appropriations Committees by Feb. 6, those will be the priority this week.  Look for quick blog post alerts for email assistance in the coming days and weeks.

Although a bit shorter, the hearing schedule next week as some important county issues to address. Stay tuned, stay informed, and stay in contact with your local legislators.

Check out the hearing schedule on the blog at this link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Strong Support for Bill to Transfer County Social Service Costs to State

The first hearing was held Wednesday on the county social service funding bill to transfer the cost of county social services to the State of North Dakota. This bill provides an exit for the existing 12% property tax buy down and delivers real, permanent property tax reform. The bill had strong legislative support, county support along with support from the cities, farm bureau and NDREC. Governor Burgum also included this idea in his budget as the mechanism to deliver property tax relief to North Dakotan's. 
Hear testimony from NDACo President Randi Suckut, Wells County Commissioner and Traill County Social Service Director Kim Jacobson by clicking on this link:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

House Members Defeat Election Equipment Bills

A bill to replace failing voting equipment failed in the House Tuesday. There were two separate bills for new election equipment. HB 1122 would have put electronic poll books into all counties. HB 1123 would replace the current inventory of ballot scanners and AutoMarks with new updated voting equipment. The total cost of both bills was $12 million. House members remarked that while this equipment may be needed in the near future, the money is not available now. Numerous counties have identified equipment failures with the current system. The equipment is wearing out and counties have been able to swap problematic equipment with spare machines or cannibalize existing equipment for working parts. Auditors feel a crisis with voting equipment is impending. 

You can access testimony delivered on this issue by following this link: 

We will work to explore other possible ways the voting equipment can be amended into other bills as we work through this session. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

NDACo Legislative Report #4

NDACo Legislative Report #4

This has been a very busy week of hearings with great participation by County Recorders as well as Auditors and Treasurers. 

The Recorders provided expert testimony regarding several bills impacting the process of land records and their advice and counsel was well received.

Auditors and Treasurers weighed in on the appropriations for new election equipment, property tax caps, and value limitations.

The state’s budget struggles have contributed to Do No Pass recommendations on the election appropriations, however it seems the testimony regarding the limitations on local government budgeting have so far been well received and understood.

Moving very rapidly this week was the borrowing authority for paying the costs of law enforcement involved in the pipeline protest.  SB2174 was heard early in the week in the Senate, moved to the floor and passed, and has already received a Do Pass recommendation in the House committee.  This is essential to paying the costs of the many, many counties that have dedicated deputies to this effort.  It shows how fast the Legislature can move if it must.

A very solid hearing was held on Tuesday to consider a 50-cent increase in the local 9-1-1 fee for the statewide radio effort.  Testimony about the communication problems encountered by sheriffs involved in the DAPL protest was convincing testimony for the need.

The House GVA committee heard a rather bizarre bill on Thursday to prohibit “public employees” (which the sponsor suggested included locally elected officials) from attending legislative hearings while receiving publically funded expenses or salary.  This was vigorously opposed by counties, cities, schools and parks. 

Next week will see hearings for some significant county legislation as well as a number of “administrative-type” measures requested by the counties.  Check out the hearing schedule at the link below, come to Bismarck if you can, and certainly let your local Legislators know how you feel.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sheriffs Seek Support for Radio Proposal

Two North Dakota County Sheriff's shared their first-hand experiences of why the current 9-1-1 Radio system is not working. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told House and Finance Tax Committee members how an officer can see another officer in a car but couldn't talk to them on the radio. Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser asked committee members to all ask the chairman a question at the same time, illustrating the communications challenges for officers responding to the Morton County protest. In situations where communications is critical, the current system has failed law enforcement and first responders.

The new radio system would allow all users - law enforcement, fire, ambulance to be on the same system and be able to communicate with each other. The new system will also improve coverage. The current radio system is set to go end of life in 2018. North Dakota is an island in our region because other states have moved onto the new system.

HB 1178 seeks to raise the 9-1-1 fee to $2.00 statewide. $.50 of that fee will be dedicated toward implementing a much needed statewide interoperable radio network.

Auditors Ask Lawmakers to Support New Election Equipment

The North Dakota House is expected to vote this week on funding new election equipment. It's not looking very positive and counties need to reach out to their Representative to encourage them to support HB 1122 and HB 1123!

Burleigh County Auditor Kevin Glatt testifies to House Approps Committee
The House Appropriations sub-committee heard the bills on Monday. We had a strong show of support from Auditors who were there for the hearing and who sent in written testimony.

HB 1122 would allow for a state-wide electronic poll book system. Currently 8 out of the 53 counties use e-poll books. A state-wide e-poll book system could create efficiencies in elections. The greatest benefit for e-poll books is that they can track voters in real-time, preventing a voter from voting in the same election more than once at various polling locations. The cost is $3 million.

HB 1123 is for new election equipment. This includes the ballot scanners and AutoMark machines. The current state of election equipment is very poor. Equipment has reached it's end of life. Counties have had numerous instances of equipment failures. The difficulty with fixing these machines is that parts are no longer being manufactured. Therefore, counties are using spare machines or cannibalizing machines for their working parts. Election officials believe the election system could experience a dangerously high failure rate in 2018 and be unworkable in 2020. NDACo provided numerous examples of equipment failures in several counties.  The cost for new election equipment is $9 million.

Several committee members questioned why the counties don't pay for the equipment. During testimony it was highlighted that counties bear a significant cost every election. Their share of the cost of running an election, maintaining equipment, etc over ten years is equal to or greater than the state's cost if these two bills are approved.

As you know, the current state budget situation has created a bleak outlook for any bill with an appropriation. The House Appropriation sub-committee that heard two election bills Monday gave both bills unanimous Do Not Pass recommendations. Please consider contacting your House members and encourage them to support HB 1122 and HB 1123.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Burgum presents budget proposal to legislators

Governor Doug Burgum released his budget to lawmakers at 5 p.m. Mo day evening.
One highlight that sticks out to counties is his support of the concept of transfering the cost of county social services to the state resulting in tax relief and reform.
Read the release from Burgum's Office below.

BISMARCK – Gov. Doug Burgum presented legislative leaders Monday with an executive budget proposal that recommends additional cuts and realigns spending priorities to spur innovation, creativity and the reinvention of government.

Burgum recommends ongoing spending of $4.62 billion, or about $159 million less than the 2017-19 budget proposed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in early December.

“Gov. Dalrymple’s budget was a good starting point. Unfortunately, revenues continue to fall short of projections, already lagging more than $15 million behind November’s revised forecast,” Burgum said. “My budget proposal reflects this reality while prioritizing K-12 education and support for our state’s most vulnerable people.”

The structurally balanced budget would cushion the general fund with an ending balance of approximately $100 million, including a $90 million transfer from the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund (SIIF).

Achieving that positive balance required finding about $100 million in further savings, including an additional 5 percent, $31 million reduction to higher education and an additional $19 million in cuts to state agencies. The total reductions would necessitate eliminating about 633 full-time positions.

To help offset the additional reduction to higher education, Burgum proposes increasing funding from $3 million to $10 million for higher education challenge grants, which will generate $20 million in matching funds through public-private partnerships. 

 In the second year of the biennium, Burgum’s budget would eliminate 1 percent increases in three areas: state and campus employee salaries, the per-pupil payment for K-12 schools and an inflationary adjustment for Medicaid providers.

State employees would pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums, saving the state $11 million and engaging state employees in the rising costs of health care.

“These measures, while difficult in the short term, will position our state for long-term success with a leaner budget that is more adaptable to volatile swings in commodity prices,” Burgum said.

The budget replenishes the rainy-day Budget Stabilization Fund with a $300 million transfer from the Tax Relief Fund. Dalrymple’s budget had also proposed a $154 million transfer from the SIIF to the Budget Stabilization Fund, but Burgum’s budget removes that transfer, as well as removes a $25 million transfer from the SIIF to Valley City State University for a new Communications and Fine Arts building.

“We need to think strategically during the next interim about how we deliver higher education to students through existing infrastructure,” Burgum said.

Burgum also recommends not using the SIIF to repay the $17 million borrowed from the Bank of North Dakota for costs related to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The state will seek reimbursement for those costs from the federal government and other responsible parties.

In addition, his proposed budget reduces the transfer of Bank of North Dakota profits to the general fund from $200 million to $140 million, as the state has previously utilized $100 million to cover revenue shortfalls in the current biennium.

With the flexibility provided by voters through the passage of Measure 2, Burgum also recommends using $200 million from the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund to maintain state aid to K-12 schools at current levels – an increase of $60 million over the previous executive budget.

At the same time, his budget removes a proposed $200 million transfer from the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund for school construction loans. Other options are available for school construction financing, including Bank of North Dakota funds, an interest buydown program and bonding.

The budget takes a more conservative approach toward oil, assuming $337 million less in oil tax revenue and an average price of about $48 per barrel, compared with $52 to $53 per barrel in Dalrymple’s budget. The oil production assumption remains unchanged at 900,000 barrels per day.

Oil tax revenue available to the general fund would decrease from $1 billion in Dalrymple’s budget to $900 million in Burgum’s budget.

Highlights from Dalrymple’s budget that Burgum has retained include:

Continued funding of Medicaid expansion.

Support for a long-term care provider assessment, which is used by more than 40 states and will ensure quality care continues in North Dakota’s nursing homes.

A combined $250 million to address behavioral health issues, including funding for adult and youth corrections programs.

SIIF funding for the Williston and Dickinson airports ($24 million), Unmanned Aerial Systems ($2 million) and lignite coal research ($3 million).

Transferring $275 million to transition the cost of county social services to the state, ending the 12 percent property tax buydown. The administration will emphasize the need to find efficiencies in social services as the legislation moves forward. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

NDACo Legislative Report #3

Two weeks down and the bills have started to pile up. Some of our old "friends" including value caps and artificial budget limits for local government have also showed up again and will require some serious attention on Wednesday.  A new wrinkle was proposed to restrict government employees from testifying is already creating a considerable stir.  That shows up in HB1168 and will be heard on Thursday.

Tuesday has a hearing on the proposal to fund the local share of a statewide interoperable radio network with a 50-cent increase to the 911 fee on phones.  A separate proposal to add an administrative fee on traffic offenses is expected in the coming weeks.

Still plenty of work on appropriations bills of interest to counties is schedule for the coming 
week, particularly DHS, OMB, and the land board budgets – not to mention the two separate appropriations bills for new election equipment. 

This past week (in addition to the earlier posts) included a solid overview of the proposal to fund county social services with state funds made to the House Appropriations subcommittee addressing the DHS Budget. It gets confusing however as this concept is spread out among three separate bills. The DHS budget (HB1012) has the money, the OMB budget (HB1015) transfers the funds, (both in the house) and a senate bill as yet to be numbered contains the formula for reimbursing counties.  Lots of talk and interest in this proposal, particularly after Governor Burgum stated that there needs to be an “off ramp” for the 12% property tax by-down.

Get this report and the hearing schedule for next week in the weekly reports to the left, or at the link below.

State Funding of Social Services Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Plate Bill Dies in House

After lengthy debate in the House over whether or not North Dakotan's need one license plate or two on their vehicles, Representatives voted to kill the bill. The bill would have required drivers to only display one drivers license plate on their vehicle as opposed to the two that is currently law. 19 states currently allow for a single license plate on vehicles. The carrier of the bill said two license plates are unnecessary. Those who opposed the bill talked about how having two plates help law enforcement better identify vehicles involved in crimes.
"Having one license plate is as detrimental to law enforcement as having only one handcuff on a set of handcuffs," said Rep. Chuck Damschen. 
"So someone doesn't like the way a plate looks on the front of his vehicle, are we passing laws now for vanity reasons?" said Representative David Monson.
The bill failed by a vote of 34-57

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lawmakers Hear Proposal for Law Enforcement Tuition Waiver

Fargo Chief David Todd Testifies on Tuition Waiver Bill
Law enforcement testified in support of a tuition waiver that would be available for officers who have been on the job for more than two years. The proposal was heard before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday morning. Senator Diane Larson brought the bill forward as a way to assist law enforcement in recruiting and retention. "We all benefit from well educated officers," she told committee members.
Larson testified that the National Guard told her the promise of a tuition waiver is the best recruiting tool the National Guard has. Tuition waivers are available for National Guard members, Highway Patrol Troopers and many other programs, too many to list during the hearing. While it is difficult to estimate how many officers may take advantage of this program. Larson told committee members there are only 447 sworn officers eligible for the tuition waiver as proposed. Several Sheriff's were in attendance and were represented by Billings County Sheriff Rummel who spoke in support of the measure.

Law Day at the Capitol

It was Law Day at the Capitol Tuesday. This gave the Sheriff's and other law enforcement in the state the opportunity to visit with lawmakers about their issues. You could see many instances of legislators thanking officers for the job they do every day. Top on law enforcement's list of priorities for this legislative session is gaining support for a new statewide interoperable radio system. North Dakota's radio system is in dire need of replacement, the state is being left behind by other state's who have made improvements and our officers need and deserve the capabilities to simply communicate. There are a couple bills that propose different funding mechanisms to get started on this project. We will keep you posted on their developments.

Senate Kills Marriage Bill

Senators Tuesday voted to kill a bill that would have updated North Dakota's Century Code by referencing to marriage in gender neutral language. The bill came out of the interim in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriages nationwide. The bill sought to change numerous places in North Dakota Century Code where marriage is referenced to "husband and wife" to individuals. The bill was voted down 15-31.

151 same sex marriages have been recorded in North Dakota since they became legal in 2015.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Senate Passes Overweight Regulation

The North Dakota Senate approved a bill (SB 2045) Monday to remove the sunset on a law that allows political subdivisions to keep the revenue from penalties imposed for overweight loads on county roads.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Week 2 NDACo Weekly Schedule

The first week of the Session is largely behind us, and already the Legislators are heavy into the discussion of the budget.  Governor Burgum’s State of the State address (see previous post) coupled with an Appropriations Committee examination of the Executive Revenue Projections – have triggered (at least for the time being) plans for further spending reductions.  Truly challenging for agency heads.
Counties had some early success this week, with a Do Pass recommendation on SB2045 removing the “sunset” on the civil penalties for overweight trucks.   It still has a long way to go, but a good start.
A request from a landowner to reopen the issue of Extraterritorial Zoning (ETZ) was met with serious concern by the Senate Political Subdivisions – as it proposed that ETZ residents vote in all city elections.  Clearly the committee recognized the problem of “regulation without representation”, but balked at “representation without taxation”.  This issue has been debated and the law tweaked for the last four sessions.
Also receiving a Do Pass right out of the chute was a proposal developed in response to the weaknesses in the State’s childcare licensing process brought to light by recent publicized incidents.  The legislation will accelerate the license renewal and establish higher penalties for those providers that fail to meet deadlines.
Possibly the biggest news of the first week was more in the area of “process”.  After adjourning at the end of the State of the State address, the Legislature chose NOT to reconvene until Friday – in order to “save” legislative days.  (They only get 80).  This makes planning for next week a bit more difficult. 
Since they did not “gavel in”, they procedurally could not “introduce” legislation, so they have only pre-filed bills to schedule for hearings next week.  As a result, you will see that the hearing schedule of “county bills” is uncommonly short for this early in the Session.  We anticipate we may be supplementing this report with an updated schedule, once more bills are available to the committee clerks and chairs.  So stay tuned.
To see the most recent schedule for the week click here:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Governor Burgum Delivers First State of the State

He is a new Governor with new vision. Governor Doug Burgum was escorted into the North Dakota House chambers and sworn in as the state's 33rd Governor. Then he addressed a full chamber about embracing change. His tone was upbeat, positive and he seemed energized by the challenges ahead. He addressed the decline in revenues and the growth in spending. Burgum indicated that the budget proposal provided about a month ago to lawmakers is a start and that he and his staff will be looking at amendments to the agency bills.
"Given the revenue uncertainty, we must dig deeper. Right now is the time to right-size government," said Burgum.
Burgum said the state will examine its revenue forecasting system. He indicated that the current model has continued to not accurately reflecting the linkage between lower commodity prices and sales tax collections. Burgum said, "many big decisions have had to be made with limited or poor data."
Burgum also focused on tax reform. "The state should find an 'off-ramp' to remove itself from the local property-tax-buydown business, without simply shifting the burden back to local political subdivisions. Time has shown that our current buydown program approach has multiple shortcomings," he said. Burgum did not go into further detail but did indicate that true long-term property tax reform requires reducing the cost of local government.
He reflected on a personal experience with an individual dealing with addiction and homelessness. Burgum told lawmakers the state much start treating addiction differently.
Burgum ended he speech emphasizing the need for all branches of government to reinvent better ways to serve the citizens of North Dakota. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Legislative Schedule for Week 1

NDACo Legislative Report #1
Well it is starting –neither storm, nor wind, nor wind chill will keep the Legislature from convening.  Things kick off on Tuesday with Governor Burgum’s first big address to the Legislature and the citizens of North Dakota.  His “State of the State” will be given in the House Chambers, and as such will be streamed live via the Legislature’s website.  You can check it our yourself at
Everyone will be listening for Burgum’s priorities and how they differ from the Executive Budget prepared by Jack Dalrymple.  Importantly for counties will be his decision regarding the state funding of county social services. 
Speaking of budgets, for those planning to testify on an agency budget, it may get a bit confusing – at least before crossover.  For the first time in anybody’s memory, the Legislature has introduced its own agency budgets, while also accepting the introduction of those budget bills prepared by OMB for Governor Dalrymple.  As an example, HB1020 is the Water Commission budget prepared by the Legislative Council, which is essentially the 2015 budget as adjusted in the Special Session – sort of a zero-based budgeting approach.  While HB1080 is the Governor’s budget with his recommended decreases and increases.  Of course Governor Burgum may ask a legislator to introduce his own agency budget bills, or possibly provide recommended amendments.  With all that paper for each agency, one will really need to know what the committee is using as a reference point.
With hearings only Wednesday – Friday, and 35 freshman to orient, the committee schedule is a bit light.  Mainly broad budget overviews for the full appropriations committees, some specific educational presentations, and hearings on mostly interim committee bills.  The hearing schedule below contains the bills that we have flagged as county related. 
As in past sessions, we have coded them by major topic area (A=Major Funding, J=Justice & Public Safety, etc.)  The entire code key is available behind the “weekly reports” tab at the left.  We also give each bill a ranking of zero to four stars (*) based on our preliminary assessment of the financial and/or policy impact. 
The links should be live on the bill numbers below, so you can read what is actually being proposed, but don’t hesitate to shoot one of the legislative team an email if you have questions.

To see the schedule of bills we are tracking for the week of 1/4 follow this link: