Greetings from Bismarck. This past week was the twelfth full week of the Legislative session. Most policy committees have concluded their work, but most major appropriations bills are still pending in the two appropriations committees and will remain in limbo until the compensation package for state employees is determined.
There are minor differences between the House and Senate appropriations and the two chambers have been meeting. There were very minor changes to the estimated general fund balance at the end of the next biennium. General fund revenues and the beginning fund balance are now estimated to be $4,100,975,424, while general fund appropriations are now estimated to be $4,892,142,203, creating a general fund deficit of ($791,166,779). This week a report from legislative council estimated the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund unobligated balance at the end of the next biennium is $1,620,000,000 unless transfers are made to balance the general fund deficit.
There were several very controversial bills relating to landowner issues this past week. In the House, SB2344 passed by a 65-26 vote. The bill seeks to clarify issues related to the “pore space” in underground formations. It is an important issue to continue a CO2 enhanced oil recovery project in the Cedar Hills field in southwest North Dakota. The bill carrier stated, “this bill might be the most controversial of the entire session”. It is unsure what the Senate will do with the bill as it was amended on the House side and must return to the Senate. SB2315, referred to as the posting or criminal trespass bill which originally relieve landowners of the responsibility of posting their land to prohibit hunting is in a subcommittee. The bill has been heavily amended and another amendment relating to the criminal trespass section has been prepared but not placed on the bill. The bill remains in the House agriculture committee. A third controversial bill is HB1290, which prevents law enforcement officials from entering buildings or private land without search warrants, probable cause, or permission. There were vigorous objections to the bill from law enforcement officials. The bill has passed the House and this week was given a 4-2 Do Pass recommendation in the Senate judiciary committee.
SB 2268, a bill which originally authorized up to $100,000,000 in bonding for highway improvements and construction in the Corridors of Commerce program, was heavily amended with all references to bonding being stripped out of the bill. This past week the bill passed the House by an 82-4 vote and was returned to the Senate. Meanwhile an amendment to HB1012, the Department of Transportation budget bill, is being considered which transfers up to $100,000,000 from the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund to begin the four lane Highway 85 project. Bids are being opened on May 10th for replacement of the Long X bridge with a new four lane bridge which has funding.
This week there were four additional committee work sessions on SB2020, the State Water Commission budget bill. During discussion of the WAWSA appropriation request, the committee moved to reinstate $5,000,000 which had been removed in the Senate. The bill remains in the House appropriations committee. It is highly likely this bill will end up in a conference committee. There is still interest in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Library project at Medora, and an amendment has been proposed to appropriate $15,000,000 and authorize the Bank of ND to loan an additional $35,000,000 to the project.
In other legislative action this past week, the Senate has voted to overturn Gov. Burgum’s veto of the bill increasing driver’s license fees. The bill will now return to the House for override consideration. HB1174, a bill which would exempt social security income from the income tax, is still alive in the Senate. The bill has a $20,800,000 fiscal note, and prospects for passage are probably dim.
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. dzubke@nd,.gov; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.