Schedule for Week 5 and Legislative Update

Click here to view the Schedule for January 30th – February 3rd

Finally! The end of “regular” bill introduction was reached on Monday.  Resolutions can still come in for a week, and of course, the Delayed Bills Committee can always authorize a few more; but, by and large, we are now dealing with 538 House bills and 391 Senate Bills – probably not a record, but plenty. Of those 929 bills, 531 of them are of county interest and are included in our tracking lists. With the frenzy of bill writing dying down, the committee and floor activity is picking up.

NDACo along with our partners from cities, townships and airports testified in support of SB 2275 to remove the $400 million Strategic Investment & Improvement Fund (SIIF) bucket that sits in front of the local infrastructure buckets, otherwise known as the Prairie Dog funds. Morton County Engineer John Saiki, emphasized that removal of the SIIF bucket will increase certainty for political subs and aid them in addressing the mounting road and bridge needs. Interestingly, another bill was filed this week that also addresses the buckets but counters our proposal. SB 2367, which is sponsored by the two majority leaders and appropriations chairs, increases the amount of oil and gas tax revenue that would go into the state general fund, tax relief fund an the SIIF buckets. This bill could delay allocations going to cities, counties, townships and airports. No hearing has been set yet for SB 2367.

HB 1486 which would close the PERS defined benefit retirement plan for new employees was heard in the house government and veterans affair committee on Thursday morning. Although a number of similar bills are floating around this session this bill specifically requires political subdivisions to “pony up” for a bigger portion of the unfunded liability. Specifically this bill would requires counties collectively to pay approximately $90 million over the next two bienniums. NDACo is opposed to this specific approach. HB 1040 is the other main PERS bill which was heard earlier this session. That proposes to close the DB plan for new employees and move them to a DC plan. That plan would require a 1% employer increase from the political subs. On Friday, SB2239 will be heard at 9:45 by Senate State and Local Government.  This bill keeps the pension program as it is, with new employees having the option of the defined benefit (pension) OR a defined contribution plan.  This bill requires the state and local government participants to buy down the liability over the next 20.5 years. The fiscal note estimates this requirement increases the employer contribution by 4.6% of salaries. The other main PERS bill that was heard earlier is HB 1040

The subdivisions of the two Appropriations Committees began taking public testimony on the big agency budgets.  McKenzie-Mountrail Zone Director, Desiree Sorenson, addressed the Senate Approps, Human Resources Division, speaking to the Zone support in SB2012 (DHHS Budget). Good questions were asked, and education of the committee will continue.

The policy (Transportation) Committee in the House increased the separate general fund appropriation requested by NDDOT from $35 million to $70 million before passing the bill (HB1103) on to the Appropriations Committee.  This money is specifically for matching federal funding that may be secured in the coming biennium.

NDACo also supported an emergency bill being fast-tracked to provide relief for exorbitant snow removal costs to counties, cities, townships and the state. ND DES is working with counties to collect snow removal costs. The committee discussed changing the threshold from 200% of the 5 year average to 150%. SB 2183 includes $35 million for snow removal.

The bill to eliminate liability for local government to transfer ownership of bridges on closed section lines (HB1206) was defeated on the House floor 6-85.  Also seeing defeat in the House was HB1208 to allow farm “guest workers” to drive semi’s without CDLs.

NDACo’s Linda Svihovec testified in opposition to HB 1367, which sets the preliminary budget deadline for July 10 and provides for citizen referral of the budget by petition.  The committee voted a DO NOT PASS 11-1-2 and the House supported that recommendation for DNP 76-16.

The House Finance & Tax Committee passed HB 1408 which provides an exemption for a portion of the true and full valuation of land enrolled in the state’s PLOTS program.  The original bill called for a 50% exemption and the amended version passed with a 10% exemption 9-3-2.  NDACo supported the merits of the PLOTS program but opposed using local property taxes to incentivize a state program. 

The tax value freeze for all  seniors (without a funding source) was defeated on the House floor 25-67.  This was HB1380.  However there is another, similar bill, yet to be addressed that would have the state pay the property taxes for all seniors.

HB1267, supported by counties, to restore excess receipts from foreclosure sales to the county general fund was narrowly passed in the House (52-41).

An increase to maximum township official annual  salary from $2,000 to $4,000 (HB1236) found favor in the House on a 88-4 vote.

HB1247 as introduced would have exempted potato warehouses and elevators located in cities from property tax if used exclusively for the owner-farmer.  The bill was amended into a required interim study and passed by the House.  A study (HB1248) of moving away from property taxation based solely on square footage (rather than value) was also passed in the House.

It appears this will be another heavy session for election related bills to be discussed. There were several bills with proposals that would change the current election process in North Dakota. County Auditors opposed the following bills on Thursday: SB 2226 to include the full text of constitutional measurers on ballots. HB 1314, which seeks to restrict the use of secure ballot drop boxes. Currently, all counties utilize ballot drop boxes as an option for voters to return their completed ballots. HB 1405, would require pollbooks to be disconnected, making it impossible to identify if an individual votes more than once in addition, the bill would limit counties use of vote centers. SB 2308, would eliminate vote by mail ballots. SB 2316 would result in the manual counting of ballots at the close of polls.

A number of bills seek to address citizenship in relation to voting. Auditors are supportive of HB 1431 which has been worked on by the Secretary of State’s Office and Rep. Scott Louser.

SB 2292 was initiated by county auditors and will provide protections for election officials and poll workers who may encounter individuals looking to disrupt election processes. The bill also addresses election observers and voter privacy.

A complicated bill, SB 2144, sought to require school bond elections to include future operation and maintenance costs on the ballot itself was voted down by the Senate 4-42.

Before unanimous House passage, HB1302 was amended to require the Ag Commissioner to give county commissioners 45 days for zoning review of an anhydrous ammonia facility siting by that office.

HB1361 was given a favorable committee recommendation from House Human Services.  This bill makes it clear that a person charged with murdering their spouse cannot control the disposition of the deceased.

SB2133 to remove funds donated to rural fire departments from audit consideration was an attempt to address the audit exceptions that several departments had this past year.  The State Auditor opposed, but offered options within current law that would possibly be workable.  The Bill was killed in the Senate 9-38.

Jason Benson, Cass Co. Engineer,  gave opposition testimony on SB 2251, which requires permission from landowners to survey and opposition to SB 2313, 33% increase for eminent domain litigation.  Both bills would cause major delays in county road/bridge projects and increase project/admin costs due to the time constraints and potential litigation on eminent domain issues.   

Several firearm related bills were heard this week as well. ND Sheriffs & Deputies Association opposed HB 1483 which would allow guns in public buildings. We emphasized that this would allow for guns in county buildings including law enforcement centers, jails, social service offices, state’s attorneys offices, etc. if they are not included in the courthouse.

Last Friday, while we were all on our phone calls, SB2153, to codify the core function of public health units was passed in the Senate 34-12.

The Senate, with considerable debate, approved doubling speeding fines for those found driving 21 MPH over the posted limit. This bill, SB2168, passed 34-13.

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