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Mug: Terry Wanzek

Health insurance, hemp: 2 issues with lasting impact in North Dakota Legislature

We have 80 legislative days, per the North Dakota Constitution, to complete our work in the state's 66th legislative session. There is hope we can wrap things up with a few days remaining before the session ends May 2.

There are two bills in this session that I believe can make a difference in the coming years for North Dakota Agriculture and our farmers and ranchers and their families.

While HB 1106 may not be on agriculture's radar, I believe it is a significant bill that can have a direct effect on agriculture producers in our state.

Many farmers and ranchers that I shared HB 1106 information with have indicated that it could definitely impact their finances and their ability to buy health insurance. This bill will assist those who are in the private health insurance market and who do not have access to large group markets or other government health care. These are farmers, ranchers and small business folks.

The bill allocates up to $31 million of state funds to create what is called an invisible reinsurance pool. This pool of money will be used to insure insurance companies for up to 75% of claims received between $100,000 and $1 million. In effect, this lowers health care premiums in the individual market by alleviating pressure from insurance companies to pay for the few folks who have expenses above this $100,000 mark - costs that are passed along in the form of premiums to other policyholders.

Similar legislation recently implemented in Minnesota has lowered premium rates by 29%, making insurance much more affordable for farmers and ranchers buying health care in the individual marketplace. This bill is projecting a 20% decrease in health insurance premiums in North Dakota. The interest to the state is to prevent the private health insurance market from collapsing under the heavy pressure of higher premiums which could lead to a single payer system for all folks—something that is not very popular.

This bill is still in the Senate awaiting a final vote.

​Another bill of interest to agriculture is HB 1349, which deals with industrial hemp. After being on the forefront of industrial hemp regulation for the past two decades, this bill brings North Dakota up to date with the 2018 Farm Bill. The most recent version of the farm bill legalizes the production, interstate sale and insurance of the crop within the nation.

In North Dakota, HB 1349 simply establishes a licensing system through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture that conforms to the federal guidelines put forth in the farm bill and brings us up to speed with several other provisions in the national legislation. North Dakota has long been on the leading edge of policy regarding this valuable crop, and federal policy is beginning to come more closely in line with what many North Dakota farmers have envisioned.

Some folks believe hemp can become a big industry in North Dakota and that we are in position to be leaders in hemp production. However, it will take further investment in processing and markets for both plant fiber and CBD oil. This bill passed in the Legislature and was signed by the governor March 28.

A few comments on the state's budget. I serve as a member on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Things are appearing to be more friendly in our revenue collections. In the current biennium, our actual oil tax revenues are coming in at 45% or $1.164 billion more than our projections from the last budget. And in the new budget (2019-2021) we are looking at 1.4 million barrels of oil production per day, over the last budget of 900,000 barrels per day.

Also, in actual general fund revenues collected this biennium, we are running 6.6% or $235 million ahead of projections.

I'm also optimistic about our agriculture economy. I am a member of a subcommittee that will be working on the budget for North Dakota State University Research and Extension Services, Northern Crops Institute, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, main research center, branch research centers, and agronomy seed farm. This is a budget that is extremely important to North Dakota.

It is my hope we can restore funding for agriculture research to past levels before our economic decrease of the past few years. Thank you again for the opportunity to share some of the activities going on at your legislative session. Take care and I'm looking forward to spring and farming!

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