ND Legislature: Working hard in the second half of session
As I write, we are on the 39th day of the North Dakota legislative session. We came back into session this week after the crossover break. In the Senate, we are in the process of holding hearings and deliberating on bills that have already passed...
As I write, we are on the 39th day of the North Dakota legislative session. We came back into session this week after the crossover break.
In the Senate, we are in the process of holding hearings and deliberating on bills that have already passed the House; the House is doing the same with bills that have passed the Senate. Between the two chambers, 778 bills were introduced this session, and we have 525 bills left to address; 253 failed and are gone. In comparison, we had 599 bills remaining at this point in the 2015 legislative session.
At crossover our general fund appropriations are $4.3 billion dollars or $1.3 billion less than the final $5.6 billion from the 2015 session. At the crossover point, even after many budget cuts in the first half of the session, our state budget still shows an ending general fund balance that is $512 million in the red.
This general fund status, however, does not include oil revenue transfers to the general fund that were in the executive budgets prepared by the governor. In addition, no transfers have been recorded yet from some of the other non-general funds. The revenues in this general fund status number are the ongoing general fund revenues, including the $300 million transfer from oil tax revenues, as in past budgets.
Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's executive budget, as presented in December, recommended transferring $1 billion - or $700 million more than normal - and current Gov. Doug Burgum's budget recommendation suggests a $900 million transfer.
We recently passed Senate Bill 2327 in the Senate, a bill to transfer some authority of the Health Department into a new Department of Environmental Quality. Those in favor of this bill argue that giving the environmental health section of the Health Department more autonomy isn't growing government, but rather making government more responsive to the needs of citizens. For the past few years, agriculture, coal, oil and gas have been under an onslaught of federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. The environmental section of our Health Department has been our state's first line of defense against EPA overreach into the state's right to regulate. Those opposing the bill argue that it will undeniably grow more state bureaucracy.
Senate Bill 2225 was a bill to reverse the system of land access in North Dakota, so that all land is presumed to be posted unless the landowner specifies otherwise. The bill failed on the floor, but in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, it is an issue that isn't going away. Landowners need reasonable recourse to prosecute criminal trespassers; under the current system, it is difficult to prove whether land was properly posted, even if a trespasser tore the sign down.
The Senate passed a bill that I sponsored, Senate Bill 2263, with amendments, and I suspect it will be amended further in the House. The bill helped to clarify a discrepancy among water resource districts in our state with regards to permits for water drainage tiling or what we will now be calling subsurface water management systems. This is to be more reflective of the differences of drainage versus water management. There is a difference.
We are continuing to work hard through the second half of the session, and we hope to finish around mid-April so that we can reserve some days of the session in case we need to address changes to the health care system at the federal level.
Editor's note: Each month during legislative sessions, Agweek will feature the Legislative Roundup from senators and representatives in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. Each guest writer will offer perspective on the latest session and the highlights as they relate to agriculture. Wanzek is a Republican representing District 29 in the North Dakota Senate and volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network, globalfarmernetwork.org.