Greetings from Bismarck. Legislative Leadership is now looking at a mid-Easter week adjournment, somewhere around the 73rd or 74th day. Allowed to meet for 80 days, the plan is to save several days in case a special session is needed to deal with possible changes by Congress to the Affordable Health Care Act. The General Fund deficit is $448 million, compared to a deficit last week of $672 million. While large, the deficit is not unmanageable at this point in the session. This past week the House moved to holding twice daily floor sessions in order to process the backlog of bills.
We had several spirited debates in the House this past week. SB 2134 is a bill relating to the ownership of mineral interests on land inundated by Missouri River dams. Discrepancies between a 1950’s federal survey of the original Missouri River channel and a 2009 survey conducted by the state to determine the high water mark of the river has resulted in conflicting claims to ownership of the same minerals. Supporters of the bill argued that the state illegally confiscated the minerals and want them returned to the rightful owners. Opponents of the bill argued this was the wrong time to spend this money, and the amount of money in dispute, approximately $187 million, could be used to reduce the budget deficit and fund programs previously cut by the legislature. Some of the money is sitting in escrow accounts and will not affect the general fund budget nor reduce the deficit. The House passed the bill 79-11. Another bill which had a vigorous debate was HB 1166, a bill which would remove the last trigger on the oil extraction tax. That trigger would increase the tax from 5% to 6% if the price of oil exceeds $90 a barrel for three consecutive months. After a convoluted 30 minute debate the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Al Carlson asked the House to kill the bill. The bill was defeated 8-81.
Last week I mentioned the curious history of SB 2206, a bill to transfer funding responsibilities for social service programs from counties to the state. The bill had a large fiscal note of $275 million in each of the next two bienniums. With the transfer it was intended that local property taxes would be reduced by a similar amount. The House amended the bill into a study resolution, and the amendments have lingered on the House calendar for six legislative days without any floor action. For a bill or amendments to be laid over for this length of time is somewhat unusual. An amendment to HB 1003, the appropriation bill for the Attorney General, has been offered which directs the Attorney General to place a lien on federal property in North Dakota until the federal government reimburses the state for the collective expenses involved with the Dakota Access Pipeline protestors. The aggregated expenses are expected to exceed $34 million.SB 2013 will come out of committee this week and will reduce township money in McKenzie County. This subsequently reduces McKenzie County road and bridge funds by $2 million per year. Efforts are under way to protect the townships.
If you have an interest in any specific legislation, I invite you to visit the Legislative Council website at www.legis.nd.gov. I enjoy and appreciate your interest and invite you to contact me at dzubke. nd.gov.