Click to view the schedule for Feb. 13-17th
You will notice on the schedule for next week it is heavy with Appropriations hearings. Most of these are bills that have already had hearings in a policy committee but because they have a fiscal effect are referred to the Appropriations committee for their review as well. Both House and Senate Appropriations reported on Thursday they have 70+ bills to act on before crossover which is two weeks away. Next week we will see committees also conducting a lot of committee work. This means they will be acting on bills they have already heard and giving them a recommendation for the full House or Senate to vote on.
Among these “fiscal effect” bills, those addressing NDPERS retirement are among most significant. On the House side, the Government and Veteran’s Affairs Committee chose to advance HB1040, and therefore recommended the defeat of both HB1039 and HB1486. HB1040, was the interim committee bill to close the Defined Benefit (DP) or pension plan to new state and local government employees on December 31, 2024. The House amended the bill before sending it on to their Appropriations Committee. The immediate fiscal effect for counties remains the same – 1% increase for both employer and employee, HOWEVER, a required study of future political subdivision contributions was added. The county cost for this increase is estimated to be $3.9 million for the first full biennium. The lone Senate bill addressing NDPERS retirement (SB2239) proposes keeping the DB plan open, but increases both the State and Local government contributions to make the fund solvent in 20.5 years, and would require a 4.6% increase in employer contributions or an estimated $17.8 million in the first full biennium.
Likewise, infrastructure funding saw a lot of action. As there are seven different bills that could greatly impact local road funding, it may be simpler to put them in table with some comments.
We encourage county folks to reach out to their Senators to encourage them to vote “Green” on SB2275 to keep the bill alive for further discussion. We expect it to be on the Senate floor early next week.
On the property tax front, the Homestead Property Tax Credit program for homeowners 65 and older or disabled was addressed by committees in both chambers. The House Tax Committee amended and approved HB1211 which would entirely eliminate the asset limitation, increase the income and the value thresholds, and then give the tax commissioner the authority to increase the income thresholds based on CPI going forward. As this increases the State revenue replacement obligation by $36 million/biennium, House Appropriations will have the next look. The Senate’s approach is contained in SB2136, which was amended and approved by the Senate Tax Committee to also eliminate the asset limitation, but it then collapses the eligibility categories down to a single one – 100% tax reduction of tax up to $200,000 in value for those with incomes below $100,000. This is estimated to have an even larger fiscal effect – $123 million/biennium, so it too needs Appropriations Committee review.
Also this week, the Senate Human Services Committee received a preliminary report on the compensation equity study of human service zone employees. This was prompted by 2021 legislation and is to inform the DHHS budget for the next biennium, as the consolidation of county human services into zones has resulted in broad variation in the compensation for similar roles. A more detailed report is expected next week. This committee also reported out SB2139 regarding indigent burials. As this bill would set a statewide reimbursement rate of $3500, it has a $612,000 fiscal note and must be considered by the Appropriations Committee.
HB1374, to create a new PSC responsibility to investigate and adjudicate all complaints that state and local government was in competition with private business had vigorous debate, but was ultimately defeated 14-79 in the House. Another bill with significant debate, and ultimate defeat in the House, was HB1467, which would have directed the State Auditor to conduct random audits after certification of an election. An even closer vote in the House (54-40), overturned a Do Not Pass recommendation on Rep. O’Brien’s bill (HB1508) to force lower audit fees by the state auditor and prohibit press releases before agencies and political subdivisions could respond to audit results.
Two more bills regarding vaccinations were introduced this week. HB 1505 was amended and received a Do Not Pass from the House Human Services Committee. The bill related to vaccination prohibition and provided a penalty. Also providing a penalty was SB 2384 prohibiting vaccines developed using messenger ribonucleic acid technology (mRNA) technology. The bill further included language prohibiting mRNA vaccines for mammals in the state. Veterinarians, a beef rancher and various associations along with medical personnel testified in opposition. A proposal to change the bill into a study was passed on the Senate floor.
Senate Human Services heard testimony from local public health administrators Sherry Adams, Southwestern District Health Unit, and Erin Ourada, Custer Health on the workforce challenges facing public health. The Committee increased the requested public health loan repayment slots from 2 to 5 and the amount from $24,000 to $60,000 by giving SB 2344 a Do Pass as amended and rereferred to Appropriations.
The House Human Services Committee worked on previously introduced vaccine related bills. HB 1200 relating to COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccinations under Emergency Use Authorization came out of Committee with a Do Pass recommendation as amended. Directing the NDHHS to create and maintain a database on adverse vaccine related deaths, HB 1406 received a Do Not Pass from Committee.
The Governor signed HB1279, which expands worker’s compensation presumptive coverage of cardiac events for law enforcement and fire fighters to include 5-years of professional service regardless of where that service took place.
Receiving very little debate in the Senate was SB2362, which would permit primary enforcement of our seatbelt laws – it passed 31-14.
Law enforcement and State’s Attorneys weighed in heavily on HB 2385 which related to searches on private property and would have impacted the seizure of evidence was killed in the House.
Several election bills Auditors voiced opposition to last week, were given an DNP recommendation by the Senate State and Local Government committee. Those bills would have dramatically changed the current election process by eliminating pollbooks being used on Election Day, eliminate vote by mail, and forced manual counting of ballots.