Greetings from Bismarck. The 66th North Dakota Legislative Session was gaveled to order on Thursday, January 3. A joint session with the Senate was convened to receive Governor Burgum’s State of the State message, as well as reinstated messages from the Judiciary and Native American Nations.
Denton Zubke, Dale Patten and Keith Kempenich
Committee hearings were held on Friday and Monday mornings, and this past Tuesday floor sessions were held. As always at this point in the session, revenues were the hot topic. On Wednesday Legislative leadership adopted revenue figures less optimistic than those suggested by Governor Burgum. The main area of dispute is the anticipated price per barrel of oil, with the legislature adopting a more conservative estimate of $42.50 compared to the Governor’s estimate of $46- $50 per barrel. General Fund revenues have been pegged at $4.238 billion. The Legacy Fund is also attracting early attention. In a rare appearance, Governor Burgum appeared before the House Appropriation committee to pitch the location of the Theodore Roosevelt Library at Medora and to ask the Legislature to spend $50 million from the Legacy Fund. This request is one of several requests he has made to use up to $300 million in Legacy Funds for various statewide projects. The House Finance and Taxation committee chair has indicated he may introduce legislation to gradually eliminate the state’s individual and corporate income tax, estimated at $928 million this biennium, with earnings from the Legacy Fund. Another bill of great fiscal interest is HB1066, which is a re-write of the distribution of funds from the gross production tax and the oil extraction tax. Among other changes, the bill creates two new infrastructure priorities for municipalities and counties/ townships ($230 million), as well as a new $50 million airport infrastructure fund. This bill will be of great interest, and it is scheduled for hearing on Tuesday, January 15. On Thursday SB2020, the State Water Commission bill, was heard. Contained in the bill is a $50 million appropriation for WAWSA (Western Area Water Supply Authority) to continue the buildout to rural areas. The WAWSA appropriation assumes a $37.5 million grant and a $12.5 million loan.
Other bills of additional interest include HB1097, which would repeal the remnants of North Dakota’s Sunday closing laws; SB 2060, which would allow law enforcement officers to stop motorists if there are passengers in a vehicle who are not using their seat belts; and SB2136, which would require school districts to offer instruction on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
It is going to be a difficult and interesting legislative session. If you have legislation of interest I invite you to access the Legislative Council website at legis.nd.gov. It is fairly user friendly. We enjoy your comments and invite you to contact me with any concerns or questions. Our e-mail addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.