Committees this week worked to finish their work on bills they have heard this session. Almost all policy bills have been kicked out of the committees and Appropriations committees plan to have the budget bills they have been working on ready to be voted on early next week. Next week lawmakers will be focusing their time in conference committees, where three members from each the house and senate will meet and reach compromises on different versions of bills. It’s a very fluid schedule at this point where conference committees are scheduled with very little notice. Conference committee schedules are listed on legis.nd.gov under the session information tab.
There was movement this week on the two bills related to the PERS retirement. Senate Appropriations amended HB 1040 and gave it a 9-6 DO PASS recommendation. HB 1040 proposes to end the defined benefit PERS retirement for NEW EMPLOYEES for both State and Political Subdivisions and move to a defined contribution plan. We expect HB 1040 to be voted on in the Senate early next week. SB 2239, which proposes to keep the Defined Benefit plan open received a DO NOT PASS recommendation from the House GVA committee. This bill will also more than likely be voted on in the House next week. There are pros and cons on both sides of this issue namely whether employees should be provided DB plans or DC plans. For those vested in PERS this change should not affect you as there is a legal obligation to maintain benefits that were promised. There is however a potential long term fiscal impact to counties that is really unknown at this time. (in fairness there is potentially a fiscal impact whether the plan closes or not based on the plans unfunded liability).
Senate Appropriations also passed out two infrastructure funding bills. HB 1012 is the DOT Budget and HB 1379 lays out financial priorities for legacy fund earnings. These bills are changed quite a bit from how they were introduced in the House, so we expect the conversations to continue and they move to conference committee. The graphic helps explain the two proposals. Combined these proposals would allow for counties to share in $60 million for roads and bridges. A link to the graphic is embedded in the graphic.
Friday, during committee work on the Department of Health and Human Service budget (SB 2012), House Appropriators heard a proposal to move all human service zone employees to the state. This proposal was brought forward as an alternative to the equity proposal brought forward by human service zones. The committee rejected the amendment, they also did not include equity funding for human service zone employees.
House and Senate conferees had discussions all week on a tax relief package. HB 1158 was introduced as an income tax relief package. The Senate amended it to include property tax relief (20 mill buy-down for schools) and expansion to the homestead tax credit. The House and Senate are divided on the best mechanism to distribute tax relief and have the greatest impact. The Senate supports property tax relief, the House supports income tax relief.