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State Legislature: Week 10

Greetings from Bismarck.  This past week was the tenth full week of the legislative session.  The main interest of the week was the dueling revenue forecasts presented by Moody’s Analytics and IHS Markit.  Moody’s has long been retained by the Office of Management and Budget (executive branch), while IHS Markit was retained by the Legislative Council in 2017 (legislative branch).  Both reports were optimistic predicting slightly increased oil production and prices. 

The IHS report also predicted declining general fund revenues from sales, income, and motor vehicle taxes.  On Thursday the Legislature predicted North Dakota oil prices ranging from $48 – $48.50 per barrel with production rising very slightly to 1.44 million barrels per day.  This has set up a disagreement with the Governor’s Office over Legacy Fund earnings, some $300 million of which the Governor wants to spend on various projects including the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library at Medora. 

On Thursday the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Prairie Dog bill (HB1066) by a 46-0 vote margin. Previously passed by the House on an 80-12 vote, the bill now goes to the Governor’s Office.  The bill appropriates $250 million for infrastructure needs across the state including cities, counties, townships, school districts, and airports.  Meanwhile, its companion bill (SB2275) was heard on Tuesday in the House Appropriations committee.  Dubbed Prairie Dog III, the bill allocates $500 million from Legacy Fund earnings to create a revolving loan fund to be used by political subdivisions for critical infrastructure projects.  Another infrastructure project bill (SB2268) was also heard this past week in the House Appropriations committee.  This bill allows the Public Finance Agency to receive earnings from the Legacy Fund in the amount of $100 million and to loan money to the Department of Transportation for the construction or repair of highways located in areas designated as Corridors of Commerce.  We are co-sponsors of SB2268.  While there was no opposition at the hearing, several key committee members asked tough questions, perhaps suggesting difficult days ahead.  No action was taken on the bill. 

A fourth hearing was held this week in the House Energy and Natural Resources committee on SB2344, a bill that seeks to clarify issues related to “pore space” in underground formations which can hold re-injected natural gas, CO2, or produced salt water.  This bill has become very controversial and has generated a lot of opposition from some landowners who own the “pore space” but view its use without payment as a taking. Amendments have been prepared to protect existing disposal wells under contract, but the bill remains in committee.  Another bill of high interest which has become very controversial is SB2315.  Six hours of committee hearings were held on Thursday and another hearing has been scheduled for Thursday of this week.  The bill originally proposed to eliminate posting requirements for private land.  It was amended in the Senate leave posting requirements as is and now contains a provision to establish a statewide data base with color coded maps identifying land which is open to hunters, closed to hunters, or where hunting is permissible with permission.  There are some criminal trespass ramifications which will require amending. 

SB2326 was introduced and heard this past week in the Senate Finance and Tax committee. This bill would correct the error in distribution of oil revenue which shortchanged the Common Schools Trust Fund, Foundation Aid, and the Resources Trust fund. It assures that distributions will be correct prospectively but does nothing to correct the past. There has been a lot of discussion in the legislature in this regard and little agreement until further review.  The committee did not take any action.

If you have an interest in any specific legislation, we invite you to visit the Legislative Council website at legis.nd.gov. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any concerns at dzubke@nd.gov;  kkempenich@nd.gov; or dpatten@nd.gov.