Greetings from Bismarck. This past week was the eleventh full week of the Legislative session. It was a busy week with hearings, as most policy committees concluded their first hearings of assigned bills. Most major appropriations bills are still pending in the two appropriations committee. At this date the estimated general fund revenues and beginning balance total $4,100,975,424, while pending appropriations (spending) bills total $4,892,142,203, creating a general fund budget deficit of $791,166,779. The deficit, while not necessarily unusual at this point in the session, has caused legislators to look around for additional revenue, with the earnings from the Legacy Fund being the most obvious source. Senate hearings were held on House Concurrent Resolution 3055, which would amend the state constitution and require earnings from the Legacy Fund to be retained as part of the fund’s principal, rather than be transferred to the general fund. Spending the money would require a two-thirds legislative majority. The resolution passed the House two weeks ago by a 69-23 margin.
The House appropriations committee took a dim view this week of several bills which had Legacy Fund appropriations tied to them. SB2282 was a bill which would have created a research grant program at UND and NDSU. The bill was heard this week with a broad consensus of support. The grant program was to be funded with 15% of the Legacy Fund earnings, not to exceed $45 million. The committee passed it out with a 13-6-2 Do Not Pass recommendation and it subsequently failed in the House 30-62. Earlier in the week the appropriations committee eviscerated SB2268, which is a bill to direct $100,000,000 for highway improvements and construction in the Corridors of Commerce program. Debt service for the bonds was to be provided by Legacy Fund earnings. The committee amended all reference to the bonding authority out of the bill, and then passed it out with an 18-0 Do Pass recommendation. We are hopeful that funding for the program can be added to the Department of Transportation budget. In addition, this week the House appropriations committee sent SB2275 to the floor with a Do Not Pass recommendation. This bill was dubbed Prairie Dog III and would provide $450 million from Legacy Fund earnings to create a revolving loan fund to be used by political subdivisions for critical infrastructure projects. Meanwhile in the Senate HB1530 was defeated by a 4-41 vote. HB1530 was a bill which would have allowed the tax commissioner under certain circumstances to reduce personal and corporate income tax rates. The lost revenue, estimated at $150,000,000, was to be replaced by earnings from the Legacy Fund. Still alive in the Senate is HB1174, which would create an income tax exemption for social security benefits.
A fourth hearing was held this week on SB2315, a bill which originally relieved landowners of posting responsibilities for hunting but has been amended to create a statewide color-coded data base to identify land available to hunters. The committee took no action, but it is likely the section on criminal trespass will be amended. Another bill which has become very contentious is SB2344, a bill which seeks to clarify issues related to the “pore space” in underground formations which can hold re-injected natural gas, CO2, or salt water. Landowners who own the “pore space” object to the bill and view it as an illegal taking if no compensation is received. A sixth hearing was held this week with the committee sending the bill out with a 10-2 Do Pass recommendation after several amendments were attached. On Tuesday the Senate passed HB1017, a bill which repeals North Dakota’s Sunday morning closing law, by a 25-21 vote. A similar bill failed in 2017, and legislators have been trying to repeal the law for 40 years.
If you have an interest in any specific legislation, we invite you to visit the Legislative Council website at legis.nd.gov. As always, we enjoy your comments and questions. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any concerns. firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; or firstname.lastname@example.org
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