Opinion

Zubke: Final Week Approaching at the legislature

Greetings from Bismarck. Friday was the 68th Legislative day, with the Legislature having saved a day by not gaveling into a floor session on Tuesday to allow the conference committees to work.

Denton Zubke

Greetings from Bismarck. Friday was the 68th Legislative day, with the Legislature having saved a day by not gaveling into a floor session on Tuesday to allow the conference committees to work. There are 90 bills remaining to be processed with 56 of them in conference committees. The general fund budget deficit remains high at $595 million, but there are many high cost bills still in conference, and the reality is the deficit is much smaller, probably around $ 50-75 million. With the Legislature returning after Easter, it is likely to be Friday or Saturday before the work is finished, which leaves 4-5 days if a special session is needed.

A bill with a huge fiscal note, SB2206, has been contentious. The bill transfers funding for county social service programs to the state, but it also contains a sunset for the state’s property tax buy downs which has been in place for several sessions. The fiscal note is $161 million, but the Legislature has set aside almost $300 million in a Tax Relief Fund to continue paying for the previous property tax buy downs. Passage with the House amendments would make $131 million available to use against the general fund budget deficit. On Thursday the Senate refused to concur with the House amendments, so SB2206 is now in a conference committee.

HB 1020 has also become suddenly contentious, and two scheduled conference committee meetings were abruptly canceled this week. The bill is the budget for the State Water Commission, which contains funding for all of the various water projects in the state. The bill is of considerable interest to WAWSA because it contains a refinancing plan for the project and it also contains language for the possibility of the issuance of revenue bonds which would pay off the state loans. On Thursday the Senate concurred with the House amendments to SB2344, which is an implementation plan for the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act to authorize medical marijuana. The NDCCA was the result of an initiated measure passed with 64% approval in 2015, but the measure provided minimal oversight. SB2344 creates an extensive framework for ensuring general oversight under the ND Health Department.

HB1436, a bill to allow the Legislature to self-fund the state’s employee insurance plan, was overwhelmingly defeated 0-47 in the state Senate. The issue will be the subject of an interim study unless it gets tacked on to an outstanding bill in this last week. SB2013 is a bill which relates to the expenses of the commissioner of university and schools lands and to provide certain funding transfers. Included in the bill is a provision to reduce transfers to townships from the current level of 3% to 1% from the oil and gas gross production tax. The reduction could cost McKenzie County up to $4 million in the upcoming biennium and provide up to $35 million in funding for the Williston airport. The bill is currently in a conference committee.

This coming week is likely to be the final week of the session. 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.

Zubke is a Representative from Watford City, representing District 39 at the North Dakota Legislature.


GAMES