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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Senate Human Services Committee Hears About Social Services Redesign

Social Service redesign is likely the most significant and far-reaching piece of legislation to be considered this Session and the vehicle supporting that change was introduced to the Senate Human Services Committee Monday. This committee is very familiar with this topic. Many of them last session approved the plan to shift the remaining cost of social services from counties to the state as a method to provide property tax relief. Department of Human Services Director, Chris Jones provided an in-depth look at the detailed work and study that has been done the last year and a half. He said the focus of the study has been looking at a system that can improve the process across the entire system, improve culture and remove barriers to those who need services. He stressed that the redesign plan calls for no reduction in access points.
The most dramatic changes SB2124 makes is creating 19 zones. Each zone would have a zone director, who would be a state employee. There are approximately 1,000 FTE’s in the county social service system. Under the proposed plan the state would have optional authority to move up to 200 county FTE’s to the state. Jones stated that no staff would lose employment and there would be no salary reductions, however roles could change.
“North Dakota has some inefficiencies on how human services is being delivered. Only nine states have a county-administered social service system. Surrounding states have been state administered for quite some time,” said Jones. “The current structure is the greatest barrier. The redesign proposal will allow for collaboration collectively across the state, allow for resources to be shared and eliminate any geographical or political barriers that exist.”

North Dakota Association of Counties Executive Director Terry Traynor testified in support of the
bill with some suggested changes. “Our Association is fully in support of the continuation of state funding for the delivery of county social services. This has proven to be a much more equitable means of taxpayer support of these vital services to our citizens.” Traynor explained how counties that have established multi-county districts have found efficiencies. Currently 17 counties share services of some kind. “By taking away the challenges that disparate property tax bases pose for collaboration, the Legislature has encouraged multi-county districts without a mandate.”

He explained that collectively counties have concerns with a few aspects of the plan as proposed. “We are not in support of an aggressive timetable of forced consolidation. While it is recognized that a timetable prompts action, it is believed that more time should be built into the process for counties to work together.” The plan proposes that all human service zones be approved or established by December 1, 2019. The local oversight of social services is another concern. This bill proposes that the multi-county zone administrators become state employees but provide oversight over locally employed staff. “Our Association believes this to be problematic in the process of hiring, disciplining, staff allocation, and salary decisions. Commissioners are also concerned that the role of the ‘zone board’ becomes diminished when they have no direct control over the individual responsible for ensuring adequate service delivery at the local level.”
Kim Jacobson, director of Agassiz Valley Social Service testified as well in support for the bill but
outlined several potential amendments identified by the county directors. The timeline was a top concern along with the governance structure of the zone board and the zone administrator. She called the timeline “impossible”.
Jacobson also recognized the early success of pilot projects where several counties are collaborating on specific services. “We have been able to respond more quickly to families in need and have been able to focus on the cases where families are in greatest need. We have created administrative efficiencies, shared staff, shared resources, shared supervision all with the intent of improving services to clients. The next step is to scale the pilot to expand to more areas and ultimately statewide.”

Williams County HR Director Helen Askim testified to the concerns of a divided state/county management structure and Dunn County Commissioner Robert Kleeman explained the challenges faced in large rural counties.

NDACo along with the Social Service Directors are committed to working with the committee as they review the recommendations brought forward by both groups.


The fiscal note associated with SB 2124 of $182.3 will support transition to the new model of human service zones. These funds are currently already in the Social Service fund.

Links to the testimony provided on SB 2124 can be found by following this link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1LqNkWb48Ky1a_JOWZUO28irkwqBqi701





Friday, January 11, 2019

Schedule for Week of Jan. 14th

Find the schedule for Jan. 14-18th
Here: Week 3 Schedule
Our apologies, the full schedule was not provided in the earlier blog post. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Highlights from the week of 1/7-1/10

It was the first full week of hearings and it was FULL of county related bills. It has been a fast and furious effort in getting bills filed. As we write this 590 bills have been filed. The total for the 2017 session was 770. Many are speculating there will be 1,000 bills filed this session. Monday marks the deadline for House bills. Senators have until the 21st to file bills.

Below is a summary of the bills NDACo and our members were involved in this week:
The Senate Tax and Finance committee took up two bills early in the week…
SB2089 changes the Tax Department report filing deadline for railroads from April 1 to May 1, and for utility companies from April 15 to May 1, while also eliminating the two week extension period currently allowed for utility companies.  This reduces administrative paperwork for both the companies and the tax department by setting a May 1 hard deadline date which the majority of companies were opting for with the extension.
SB 2042 eliminates the special budget reporting for oil counties and schools that was established in 2009 and 2015. Current law requires each oil county and school to file a report with the Tax Commissioner within 30 days of the end of their fiscal year which includes their statement of revenue and expenditures; ending fund balances; and oil tax revenue and expenditures.  SB2042 eliminates this end of year reporting requirement for oil counties and schools. 
The House Appropriations Human Resources Division received an overview of HB 1004, the Department of Health (DOH) budget.  Following DOH testimony, local public health administrators provided testimony requesting restoration of $525,000 to State Aid which was reduced in the proposed 2019 budget.  This additional amount would keep State Aid funding at its current 2017 level.  The Committee will resume discussion on HB 1004 the week of January 21.
The House Appropriations Committee received an overview on the Department of Corrections Budget. During their overview, DOCR pitched to legislators why the Women’s Prison should be moved from New England to the MRCC, the minimum security facility in south Bismarck. This move would trigger a series of shifts within DOCR. New buildings would need to be constructed at MRCC for the women, JRCC in Jamestown, where all the minimum security males would be housed, would need an expansion and DOCR’s plan also calls for a new State Hospital and Clinic to be built in Jamestown. Lawmaker will definitely be teasing out these details when the budget goes before the subcommittee.
The House Appropriations also received an overview on the funding for the Department of Transportation.
SB 2052 is a proposal that allows a voter-approved levy of up to 5 mills to be used for school security. The Sheriffs testified in support of the bill to assist in school safety enhancements to include school resource officers.
NDACo offered an amendment on a bill that would eliminate DHS from processing inmate medical bills. The amendment would suggest health care providers should bill counties at the fee schedule established by the department of human services for the medical assistance program.
Tuesday the Senate approved a bill Auditors supported that was the product of the interim Judiciary to address some publication requirements. The bill changes who pays for the election notice for commodity group elections from the county extension fund to the ag council/commission. It also adjusts the date for when financial statements are to be published.
The House also unanimously approved a bill to allow for vehicle to be left running even while unattended as long as the brake is engaged and a bill to allow for counties to hire part-time election workers.
 Wednesday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee received an overview of the Secretary of State’s budget. NDACo was allotted a few minutes to share our deep concerns about the aging election equipment and emphasis the need to secure state funding for a new statewide voting system. Appropriations members thanked NDACo for their compelling testimony on the urgency of this issue. We will be engaged with the sub-committee assigned this budget. NDACo has conducted a survey of the condition of the election equipment which is convincing data illustrating the degree of failure experienced during the last election.

Senate Finance & Tax heard testimony from OMB supporting SB2104 and an increase in general fund oil tax allocations from the current $400 Million to $1 Billion without changing the allocation structure of the two buckets.  SB2104 also removes the end of the current biennium sunset dates for the General Fund allocations.  The Committee tabled a decision on the bill requesting more information on current bucket allocations for a future hearing discussion.
We provided supportive testimony for the increase in funding for public guardianship.



Thursday was recognized as Transportation Day at the Capitol. Memorial Hall was filled with booths staffed by groups supporting investments in infrastructure. A group of transportation supporters helped sponsor a Transportation Education breakfast where several people including Morton County Commissioner Bruce Strinden spoke about the importance of a long-term funding approach for an infrastructure plan.
 The Senate Transportation committee took additional testimony on the primary seatbelt bill. Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben testified along with a representative from the ND Sheriffs and Deputies Association. NDACo supplied testimony in support of this bill during the initial hearing last Friday. The Sheriffs along with NDACo and NDCCA have resolutions supporting a primary seatbelt law.

The House Appropriations Human Resources Division received an overview of HB 1004, the Department of Health (DOH) budget.  Following DOH testimony, local public health administrators provided testimony requesting restoration of $525,000 to State Aid which was reduced in the proposed 2019 budget.  This additional amount would keep State Aid funding at its current 2017 level.  The Committee will resume discussion on HB 1004 the week of January 21.

NDACo along with Commissioners Bruce Strinden, Daryl Dukart and Charlie Adams supplied testimony in support of restoration of funding for NDSU Extension. The state budget reduction forced counties to pick up a greater share of the cost of Extension. This was a temporary agreement for calendar year 2019 only. This was an additional $420,000 shift on property tax payers in North Dakota. We emphasized that counties were put in tough positions due to local pressure’s they were already experiencing due to tight county budget constraints.

While this week was busy, next week will be a “big” week for counties… Tuesday is "Law Day" where many of our law enforcement officers will fill the Capitol. And, two of our main priority bills are on the schedule. Monday – SB 2124, Social Service Redesign will be heard in the Senate Human Services Committee and Tuesday – HB 1066, Infrastructure Funding (Prairie Dog) will be heard in House Finance and Taxation Committee. We urge county officials who are available to attend these two critical hearings if possible, particularly if you have a legislator from your county on the committee. The House Tax Committee and Senate Human Services Committee members can be found at this link: https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/66-2019/regular

Please check out the full schedule of county related bills here: Week 3 schedule

Friday, January 4, 2019

Governor Burgum Says ND at "Cusp" of New Era


“Today, the State of the State is that we stand at the cusp of a new era in North Dakota’s history,” Governor Burgum told North Dakota lawmakers, state officials and North Dakota citizens during his State of the State Address. His speech was filled with optimism.

“Right now, we can make smart, bold investments with long-lasting impacts --- while delivering a fiscally conservative and structurally sound budget that improves transparency --- replenishes reserves --- and does this all without raising taxes,” said Burgum.

The 33rd Governor highlighted several of North Dakota’s rankings that showcase the state’s potential. That one report ranks North Dakota as the best quality of life in the nation, and is one of five fastest growing states percentage-wise.

He continued listing achievements, “earlier this year we were ranked the best state for millennials, with our low unemployment ---affordable housing --- and nation-leading increase in wages since 2007. And North Dakota again made the list of 10 Best States to Start a Business.”

 

North Dakota’s oil and gas producers continue to shatter production records. Daily output

increased to a record 1.39 million barrels per day in October --- strengthening North Dakota’s position as the nation’s No. 2 oil producer. The state ranks 6th in overall energy production.

Burgum also spent time revisiting several budget initiatives he presented during his Budget Address last month. He again called on lawmakers to make investments to improve our state’s election integrity by funding new election equipment. Several other budget priorities made the speech including: state employee salaries, pension, investments in IT projects, improving transparency, behavioral health programs, community-based services, building a new behavioral health hospital and clinic, education funding, and infrastructure funding for roads, water, airports and technology.

“A perfect storm of circumstances tested our resolve during our first year in office,” reflected Burgum.  “From protests to crashing commodity prices to historic drought to having to close the largest budget gap in state history. But thanks to the unbreakable spirit of our citizens, the hard work of our state agencies, and the foresight of our elected leaders to plan for a rainy day, our state is stronger than ever.”

 

Burgum noted the tremendous progress that has been made in the last two years and committed to being focused next on solving the state’s workforce challenges.

 

As he wrapped up his speech he highlighted the importance of using the interest from the Legacy Fund in a very strategic way. He outlined his several of his proposals for Legacy Fund earnings, including: infrastructure revolving loan funds for political subdivisions and school construction projects, UAS infrastructure, IT projects and funding for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. He urged lawmakers to take up this proposal without delay.

“Swift passage will send a powerful message to all potential partners that the North Dakota Legislature understands both the lasting significance of this project and that the window for capturing this coveted prize for North Dakota is open right now.” He adds, “this and all of the Legacy Fund proposals will have lasting impacts beyond our current generation.”

Burgum ended his second State of the State Address with words of inspiration. 

 

“As we stand at the cusp of this new era, let us seize this opportunity for North Dakota to transform our image of ourselves --- to reach beyond any doubts and self-imposed limitations.

Now is the time to dream bold dreams --- to build those dreams --- and to create lasting legacies.”

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Week 2 Schedule

The first full week of the 66th Legislative Session will be in full swing starting Monday. Committees have full schedules. Agency bills are many of those first out of the chute. Committee work will be the focus of the beginning of the week as lawmakers will not hold floor sessions to vote on any bills until Wednesday the 9th. Transportation Day at the Capitol will be January 10th. Other big issues we will be closely watching next week are the primary seat belt bill and funding for NDSU Extension which is included in the Extension budget.
For a look at the schedule of county related bills check out the link to the Week 2 Schedule

State of Judiciary Stresses Funding for PASS Programs

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle presented his State of the Judiciary message to legislators Thursday. In his speech were a few important funding issues. He referenced the 55.5 positions cut last session in response to the budget situation. He told lawmakers the court system is now underwater and he asked for help in regaining footing by adding 6 staff positions and creating one new judgeship. The judge would be added in the South Central Judicial District.  
His speech also focused on bringing attention to the issue of adequate funding for the Public Administrator Support System (PASS) program. Below is an excerpt from his speech on PASS. 

"This is the program created by the legislature in 2013 to provide funding for public administrators. Over the years, public administrators have become the baby no one wants to hold. They serve as the guardians of last resort for those individuals who have no one else to look after them, or who are in the unfortunate position of having family members who are unable, unwilling or not qualified to provide guardianship services. Up until the early 1990s, public administrators were county employees, appointed by the county judge. When the county judge positions were eliminated, many counties also eliminated the public administrator position. Over the years, with no clear statutory determination as to whether the function should be funded by the counties or the state, there was a continual loss of individuals willing to take on those duties. To respond to the ever-growing gap between the need for services and the number of providers available, the legislature created the PASS program. Funding for the program has been in decline since its inception and the program has been forced to rewrite its guidelines several times to reduce the number of cases it can cover and lower the daily payment rate to guardians. An additional 5 percent cut to the PASS program is being proposed this biennium. With guardians having to take more cases without compensation, and a growing list of vulnerable adults waiting for assistance, I am afraid we are in danger of sliding back into the same situation we were in before the program was created."

Governor Burgum delivered his State of the State Address as well on Thursday. We'll have a post summarizing his speech tomorrow. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Legislative Session Begins Thursday

North Dakota legislators will convene Thursday morning for the start of the 2019 Legislative Session. North Dakota's Legislative Session is limited to 80 days, every two years. The 66th Legislative Assembly is made up of 94 Representatives and 47 Senators. 
Thursday's kick off to the session is filled with speeches: 
10-11 Tribal-State Relationship Message
11-12 State of the Judiciary
  1-2   State of the State Address
          The State of The State Address will be live streamed at: www.governor.nd.gov. 

Friday lawmakers will get right into committee work. There are 15 county-related bills on the schedule. Click here to view  Week 1 Schedule with working links.