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District 14 Legislative Report

By Staff | Jan 13, 2017

The 65th Legislative Session began on January 3rd this year and we are now into the second week of the session. I serve again on the House Appropriations Committee on the Human Resource Sub section. During the first part of the session we will hear two budget bills, the Protection and Advocacy Agency and the Department of Human Services budget. Because this is the largest single budget in state government we go through every department in this agency to look for efficiencies and savings while serving the growing needs of those needing long term and basic care services, home and community based care, medical services, as well as a number of programs to assist those that are our most vulnerable citizens. Within this budget this year is a proposal to take over the social service responsibilities that now are county responsibility and shift that to the state of North Dakota. This proposal will cost in excess of $240 million but if passed will offer true property tax relief to ND property owners.

The primary challenge this session will be balancing the state budget with the downturn in both the energy and agriculture sectors as they continue to drive our state’s economy. When we heard Gov. Dalrymple’s executive budget in early December, many of us in the legislature were concerned that the budget forecast for the 2017-19 biennium was too optimistic. As a result of that, we passed a revised forecast last week that lowered the general fund forecast by $104 million with most of that decrease in the sales tax line. We continue to lag in the area of sales tax revenue and that is one of the primary revenue sources of state funding. The other main area of adjustment was oil production price. The executive budget expected an average price of $51/barrel for oil price during the biennium. We lowered that estimate to a range of $41-$48/barrel during the biennium for ND pricing which includes a discount from West Texas Crude baseline. Both budgets are based on a 900,000 barrel/day production rate. I feel this forecast is conservative enough that we can go forward with funding our priorities with the certainty that the funding will be sufficient to realize the outcomes that are expected.

One area of local concern is the amount of snow we have received across most of the state this winter. We know this is creating a dilemma for local governments and although there is not a proposal at this time to assist counties, townships, and cities for snow removal we have restored funding in the Disaster Relief Trust Fund that was transferred to the General Fund in the Executive Budget. It is much too early to speculate whether or not some state assistance might become available but it is in every political sub divisions interest to begin accounting for the extraordinary spending for snow removal this winter.

The bill introduction deadline for the House of Representatives is January 16 so by this time next week we will know how many bills will be introduced in our chamber. I expect that the number will be significantly lower than previous sessions. I am working with our local JDA office in Rugby regarding a bill draft for eliminating barriers for natural gas service to communities under 2500 customers. I am also working on several bill drafts for services to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as domestic violence center funding options. I have also signed on legislation that Sen. Klein is the prime sponsor that will require local counties to be contacted in the initial stages of radioactive waste disposal site preparations and testing. This is in response to the Borehole project that was considered in southern Pierce County last year. We have been working with the local committee on this proposal since the Pierce County Commission denied a permit for that project.

Lastly, I have been involved in the interim with the Incarceration Committee and this committee will be bringing a bill draft forward that will significantly change sentencing and treatment options within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR). I will speak to the specifics of that bill draft in later reports but I can assure you that the primary focus of this legislation is to create a system in corrections that creates better public safety by identifying and treating addiction and behavior health needs and eliminating the need for additional beds in our prisons and regional facilities that are costing taxpayers far too much.

Given the challenging road conditions this winter, travel to Bismarck has been slowed so far this session. If you are planning to visit the legislature, please contact me as I would like to share some time with you if possible. You can contact me via e-mail at: jonelson@nd.gov or call me at: 701-771-2193.

I look forward to reporting back in the upcoming weeks.

Jon Nelson

ND House of Representatives District 14

The first week of the legislative session has come and gone. We heard the Governor’s State of the State Address and listened closely for any definite direction planned by his Administration. Everyone is interested in reinventing government and improving transparency, but most of us are looking for indications from the Governor’s Office of actual proposals, both in terms of policy and the budget.

The legislature has taken steps to come up with what we believe to be a firmer revenue projection. We had concerns that the Dalrymple revenue projections were a bit too rosy. After taking a hard look at our agriculture sector and reducing projections for price per barrel of oil, we are looking at an additional revenue decrease of $170 million in ongoing revenue and $114 million in one-time oil revenue.

Now that there is a place to start, the Appropriations Committee has begun its work. They are using the budget from last session and determining any enhancements that need to be made. Everyone is looking to do the best that we can in funding our priorities. We will see what happens.

As for policy bills, 152 bills have been introduced in the Senate and 268 bills in the House. In our state, every bill that is introduced gets a hearing in committee and a vote on the floor of the chamber where the bill was introduced. We have a unique system here in our state where no committee chair can simply put a bill in a drawer, never to be seen again. In addition, anyone can comment at the committee hearing. We have a very open and transparent process in North Dakota.

Keep in touch –

Sen. Jerry Klein

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