Lawmakers Completing Committee Work, Starting Conference Committees

The Legislature is now in what is descripted as the 3rd period. All hearings are wrapped up and only a few bills remain in committee. Legislators started holding the first conference committees on bills. Conference committees occur on bills when the House and Senate versions are different and chamber of origin does not approve of the changes made. Three members from each chamber are appointed to serve on the conference committee, where lawmakers work on their differences and negotiate on a version to move forward. Conference committees are scheduled with very short notice and can be held numerous times a day.

As reported on this blog and by statewide media, in the midst of this last (most recent) blizzard, the Governor signed SB2183, providing $20 million in snow removal grants for local government.  Because this had an emergency clause, it goes into effect immediately. The goal is for the funds to be distributed by the end of June. The snow removal reimbursements for qualifying applicants will cover up to 60 percent of their early season snow removal costs and/or season wide snow removal costs that exceed 150 percent of average for each applicant, based on their 4 lowest years of snow removal expenses between 2017 and 2021. NDDES has a webinar scheduled for Monday (10th) to provide further information about eligible costs and the application process.

Regarding longer term road funding action and inaction on bills included:  

  • HB1012, the DOT budget, was worked on and passed out of Senate Appropriations and includes funding for county and township roads. Two funding mechanisms for road funding are proposed in this version including dedicating 25% of motor vehicle excise tax to non-oil county and township road and bridge projects and creating a Legacy Earnings Highway Distribution Fund where a percentage of the earnings from the legacy fund would be allocated to cities and counties using the highway distribution fund formula. Both of these proposals would provide for a more reliable funding stream for county roads.   
  • SB2367 was passed by the House to increase the State General Fund, and Human Services “buckets” ahead of the Prairie Dog bucket for the allocation of oil tax revenues, however the increase of the SIIF bucket was removed.  The SIIF bucket is still ahead of the local infrastructure allocation, but it was not increased as it was in the Senate version – and will therefore undoubtedly go to conference.
  • HB1379, the “Streams Bill”, which includes several allocations for local infrastructure,  is scheduled for Senate committee work next Monday.
  • HB1020, the UGPTI (and NDSU Extension) budget was passed by Senate in a bit different form from the House version, and will likely require additional work.

The Senate debated the future of the NDPERS pension plan for well over and hour before narrowly (29-18) approving HB1040 to close the plan to new employees. The issue now goes to Senate Appropriations for more work. It is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.  As additional amendments are expected in that Committee, it will again need a final Senate vote, and quite possibly a conference committee. 

The Senate with a vote of 42-5 approved HB1307 which provides $3.5 million to local law enforcement and local corrections officers for recruitment and retention bonuses. Of the $3.5 million, $750,000 is to be allocated specifically to agencies employing ten or less officers. This will provide those smaller agencies with greater benefit per officer. The funds will be distributed based on the number of licensed peace officers in Sheriffs offices and Police departments and the number of correctional officers in the local facilities. It will be the Sheriff and Chief’s discretion on how to use the funds for hiring or retention bonuses. On average, HB 1307 could provide approximately $1,500 to each local law enforcement and local corrections officer. It appears the House will accept the Senate changes to HB1307 which could happen this next week.

SB2147, which provides retirement income to be tax exempt for law enforcement, was given it’s final approval and is off to the Governor.

The House Judiciary committee made changes to a crime penalty bill, SB 2107, which introduced by the Attorney General to provide mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related crimes and offenses to officers. The House approved the bill but not before Representative Pat Heinert strongly encouraged lawmakers to return the bill to mirror more of it’s original intent in conference committee.

The somewhat unusual HB1119 to mandate local officials only talk about property taxes in dollars (never mills) was defeated by the Senate, garnering only 1 vote. However, similar language was added to at least two other bills, including HB1245 which requires ending fund balance reporting and an interim study of property tax transparency.  HB1245 is headed to the Governor. 

HB1211, expanding the homestead credit program was killed by the Senate, but they had included that in HB1158 before sending it back to the House as an omnibus tax relief proposal.  HB1158 is now in conference committee and seems likely to be the ultimate vehicle for a tax relief package.

And the intoxicated bicycle and horse riding bill (HB1506) is headed to the Governor’s desk.

The best way to stay on top of the fluid schedule at this stage is to monitor the activity via the legislative website. Go to the session information tab where you can see conference committee hearings and standing committee hearings.

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