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Terry Wanzek first was elected to the North Dakota Legislature in 1992. (Submitted photo)

ND Legislative Update: Insurance, livestock operations among wins for ag in 2019

The 2019 or 66th North Dakota legislative session adjourned Friday evening, April 26. Among the many bills passed this session, there were several that have an impact on agriculture in the state. All said and done, I would say agriculture fared reasonably well this session.

One bill does a great deal to ensure our state's independent farmers and ranchers can afford the health insurance they need. With health insurance premiums expected to continue increasing, many individuals buying health insurance on the individual marketplace have found it to be unaffordable and have simply elected not to be insured. HB 1106 establishes what is called the Reinsurance Association of North Dakota, or RAND. This association, with help from state funds, will cover 75% of claims to member insurance providers who receive claims totaling between $100,000 and $1 million. By pulling these highest claims out of the pool, insurance companies' costs will fall, which in turn will drive down premium prices, hopefully making health insurance more affordable for farmers and ranchers.

SB 2345 seeks to expand our states animal agriculture industry, which is ranked 35th, well behind many of our surrounding states such as Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. The bill outlines the permitting process for animal feeding operations, a process that has been murky at best in the past. It requires any petitioner to obtain permission for such an operation from the board of county commissioners or townships and allows the board up to 60 days to either deny or approve the application. The bill also clarifies that authority to regulate the environmental issues related to these operations lies with the State Department of Environmental Quality. County and township zoning authorities are limited to size, scope, and location of animal operations. We hope the changes detailed in this bill will provide more certainty for investors and allow our state to add more value to our feed crops and help boost the efficacy of our state's animal industry.

SB 2224 establishes the bioscience innovation grant program. This program, which will administer grants of up to $700,000, will help North Dakota entities seeking to innovate, develop and commercialize new products ranging from biofuels and biosensors to medical products and farm-based pharmaceuticals. Not only will this grant program help spur innovation and economic development in our state, it will also potentially provide more value outlets for our state's agricultural products.

HB 1020 is the North Dakota State University Extension and research budget along with the Northern Crops Institute and the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute budgets. This includes the main research center and the branch research centers. We were able to restore proposed funding cuts and get this budget back to base plus levels. It included an $8.7 million increase in total and a $1.2 million Agribiome Initiative. Funding for agriculture research is an investment that provides great returns to our agriculture industry in North Dakota.

SB 2360 finally provides an easier, clearer, objective means for defining farmers and ranchers who qualify for the farm home exemptions with property taxes. It removes all old criteria and is replaced with the IRS ruling. Two-thirds or 66% of gross income must be farm income. It hopefully will provide more consistency in the determination of qualified farmers, county by county.

The final issue is one that has caused some frustration up here at the capitol. SB 2009, the budget bill for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, contains language that shifts the responsibility of regulating grain buyers and public warehousing licensing and inspection services from the Public Service Commission to the Agriculture Department. This bill also provides confidentiality of records to the department, enabling them to more closely inspect the financial statements of grain dealers. Of the 38 states that regulate grain inspection, 34 house this responsibility under their agriculture department. A partner bill to this, HB 1467 allows the Legislature to perform a study into grain buying, the grain buyers indemnity fund, brokers, roving grain buyers, and bonding to find a way to more effectively regulate grain trading in our state.

In the true spirit of a citizen legislator, I am happy we are done in Bismarck and looking forward to getting back home to the family and the farm. I am excited about planting season and hoping the weather will cooperate for all of us this year.

Best of luck to all and be safe out there on our farms and ranches. God bless!

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