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Busy, successful legislative session for District 25 leaders

ND Rep. Alisa Mitskog, D-District 25

With five legislative sessions under his belt, North Dakota state Sen. Larry Luick, R-District 25, knows one thing for sure.

No session ever concludes with each and every idea or preference passing or failing the way he hopes. North Dakota’s 66th Legislative Assembly concluded Friday, April 26 in the usual fashion.

“My objective is to do the best I can with the information I have at the time and hope that it is accurate,” Luick said. “Voting a bill up or down can be very challenging.”

Successes during the session included increasing funding for K-12 education, providing funding for behavioral health issues and adding funding for infrastructure needs. While funding for long-term care was provided, however, it fell short of Luick’s hopes.

“Better rules were enacted so that those suffering from health symptoms that medical marijuana can help are able to access the medical marijuana legally and respectfully,” Luick said.

Altogether, 503 bills were passed and 48 resolutions were adopted by the North Dakota Legislature. Rep. Cindy Schreiber Beck, R-District 25, is a member of the House education and agriculture committees.

“I would compare the session to an aerial spraying season,” Schreiber Beck said. “It was intense, adequate rest was important and one needed to pay attention.”

Success can only be measured by North Dakota’s citizens, Schreiber Beck said. Nevertheless, she felt several beneficial and significant legislation passed this year.

“We have our investment in K-12 education for North Dakota’s greatest asset, our young people,” Schreiber Beck said. “We increased the per-pupil payment, passed measures to improve school safety and promoted behavior health initiatives with involvement from human services.”

Increased funding for career and technical education will be a priority of Schreiber Beck’s during the 67th Legislative Assembly in 2021.

“That’s matched by promoting adequate funding for vulnerable citizens, education, infrastructure, research and workforce development,” Schreiber Beck said.

Rep. Alisa Mitskog, D-District 25, was a sponsor of House Bill 1477, which sought to curb the growing trend of e-cigarette use among youth. The bill prohibits the sale of flavored e-liquid to minors and increases the fine for selling these products or electronic smoking devices to minors to $500.

“We need to do whatever we can to address the epidemic of ‘vaping’ among teenagers,” Mitskog said previously.

Mitskog also examined education this year. She was involved with House Bill 1171, calling for a skilled workforce scholarship program.

“It is a $3 million scholarship fund and $3 million student loan repayment program created to assist in supporting students in high-demand, high-skilled occupations,” Mitskog said.

The North Dakota University System will collaborate with the Workforce Development Council to determine which educational and training programs will be able to utilize to support students.

For more information about bills that passed and failed in the 66th Legislative Assembly, visit www.legis.nd.gov.


frankstanko / Photos by Frank Stanko • Daily News Media  

Garden art celebrated at Red Door

Bruce Fingerson, Breckenridge, Minn., views ‘Dewdrops.’ A photograph taken by Fingerson, ‘Dewdrops’ is part of a garden art exhibition at the Red Door Art Gallery, Wahpeton. The gallery held a Thursday, May 2 reception for artists and supporters.


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Tying up some loose ends at the Capitol

Hundreds of bills were handled during the recently-concluded session of the North Dakota Legislature. Here’s what happened with several of the issues covered by NDNA over the past four months:

Sentencing reform

House Bill 1051, which altered what is known as the “85 percent rule” for some violent crimes, was signed by the governor March 15. Often, courts will also sentence violent offenders to probation after or in lieu of prison time. Under previous law, if individuals violated this probation, they were sent back to jail for the time required by the first crime they committed. House Bill 1051 modified the law so some violent probation offenders can only be sent to jail for the amount of time relevant to their newest offense rather than continually referring back to their more serious offense.

Nuclear waste

Senate Bill 2037, which was signed into law by the governor on April 23, establishes a framework for permitting and regulating the storage and disposal of high-level nuclear waste in North Dakota. The bill prohibits the “placement, storage, treatment, exploration, testing or disposal of high-level radioactive waste” in the state. If superseded by federal law, the rest of the bill outlines policy and permitting guidelines.

The North Dakota Community Alliance, a group of Pierce County residents who united in 2016 after a U.S. Department of Energy proposal to drill a test borehole that could’ve proved viable for nuclear waste disposal near Rugby, pushed for the strengthened language and were heavily involved throughout the legislative process.

Telemedicine

Senate Bill 2094, which was introduced at the request of the state Board of Medicine to more rigidly define and regulate telemedicine, was signed by the governor on April 24. Telemedicine is widely used by rural health centers around the state, but Bonnie Storbakken, executive secretary of the Board of Medicine, said the board wanted a better definition of telemedicine because of complaints of scam or fraud they have received from patients that could potentially be traced back to bad telemedicine practices. The bill specifies that doctors and patients must have an established relationship before a doctor can prescribe tests, treatment or medication. A legitimate doctor-patient relationship can now only be established by an in-person or live interactive video conference.

Vehicle-related bills

Legislators tackled a number of vehicle-related bills this session.

House Bill 1239, which sought to double fines for traffic violations across the state, saw an early demise in the House. But the proposal for increased fines found its way into Senate Bill 2304 through an amendment that allows cities to set their own fines up to double the state’s amount. Senate Bill 2304 was signed into law by the governor on April 17.

Senate Bill 2061 sought to impose an annual “road use” fee for owners of fully electric or hybrid vehicles, who avoid paying the “gas tax” imposed at the pump which funds road maintenance. Proponents said it was a “fairness issue” while opponents said any revenue gained would be negligible, as there are only about 141 electric vehicles registered in North Dakota. The version of SB 2061 that was signed into law by the governor on April 11 sets fees at $120 for fully electric vehicles, $50 for plug-in hybrid vehicles, and $20 for electric motorcycles.

Senate Bill 2060 would’ve made not wearing a seat belt a first cause offense, meaning law enforcement could pull over a vehicle if they noticed the driver was not wearing a seatbelt. Currently, law enforcement needs another reason to pull over a vehicle before issuing a seat belt citation. The bill evoked emotional debate, with legislators from both chambers recalling traffic accidents they either witnessed or were involved in. The bill barely squeaked through the Senate 24-23, but ultimately failed in the House on March 7, with a vote of 38-54.

Dental therapists

For the third session in a row, legislation authorizing dental therapists – a level of certification above dental hygienist but below dentist – to treat patients failed to take off at the capitol. House Bill 1426 was struck down in the House 62-31. The bill’s proponents said dental therapists would increase access to care in rural and tribal areas across the state. The University of North Dakota’s Center for Rural Health has classified 23 counties in the state as dental health professional shortage areas and the Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians all officially voiced support for dental therapy. Opponents of the bill, including the N.D. Dental Association, said they were concerned that it could lower the quality of care for vulnerable populations. Only eight states allow dental therapists to practice in any capacity.

Law enforcement on private property

House Bill 1290 sought to prevent law enforcement officers from entering private land unless they were responding to an emergency. Otherwise, they would need to have permission from the landowner, have a search warrant or have probable cause to enter. Introduced by Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, the bill passed the House 64-29 but hit a snag with the Senate, where the bill was stripped of its original language and turned into a study of search and seizure procedures. The study proposal then failed, 4-43.

Medicaid for pregnant women

House Bill 1515, a bill to expand the number of women eligible to receive Medicaid benefits during pregnancy, was signed by the governor April 5 after overcoming a “Do Not Pass” committee recommendation on its way through the Senate. The bill, championed by self-described “dirt farmer” and concerned citizen Ben Tucker, expands North Dakota’s Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women from 152 percent above the national poverty level to 162 percent. It found support from both Democrats and Republicans as a way to help women with low income and potentially decrease the number of women seeking abortions.


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Westrom applauds Senate passage of tax budget bill

Republicans in the Minnesota State Senate are proud of the Thursday, May 2 passing of a comprehensive tax budget bill.

Several groups, including seniors, farmers and veterans, will have expanded tax relief, the Republicans say.

“This bill holds every Minnesota tax payer harmless while delivering much needed tax relief to farmers and hardworking middle-income families,” said Senator Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, in a release.

Supporters of the bill say it also encourages affordable housing investment and reduces property tax burdens. Approximately half of Minnesota’s population will receive a tax reduction, Westrom said.

“Just as important as what’s in this bill, is what’s not in this bill,” Westrom said. “There’s no gas tax increase, no ‘sick tax,’ and no tab fee increase, as the governor and House of Representatives have proposed. During a budget surplus, there is no reason to raise taxes on hardworking Minnesotans, and this bill accomplishes that goal while also growing the wallets of families.”

Residents in Minnesota’s second-tier income tax bracket are projected to have a tax cut of .25 percent. Assuming the bill fully passes, it could be the first income tax rate cut for working Minnesota in almost 20 years.

“It would expand the ability for farmers and businesses to deduct equipment purchases to expand and invest in their operations as well as reduce the statewide property tax levy by $50 million in 2020,” Westrom said.

Supporters also said the bill will make funding available for affordable and workforce housing development and would lower taxes on affordable housing.

“The income tax subtraction on social security would increase allowing, increasing the income of Minnesota seniors,” Westrom said. “The veterans homestead exclusion would be extended to help veterans and their spouses.”

Preschool expenses are also examined in the bill. It creates the Opportunity for All Kids (OAK) scholarship program by allowing charitable donations to fund education scholarships for kids of low-income parents.

“School district equalization aid would have an increase, helping districts with a low-tax capacity. Greater Minnesota would especially benefit,” Westrom said.

Westrom also singled out the idea of federal tax conformity.

“This legislation simplifies our state tax code to fit federal government regulations, not only making it easier for every Minnesota taxpayer to file their taxes, but also ensuring maximum benefits from the recent federal tax changes,” he said. “Minnesotans deserve to keep as much of their hard-earned income as possible, and this bill aims to do just that.”

Conference committees in the Minnesota Legislature are expected to meet and review both the Senate and House omnibus bills. There is less than three weeks left of the legislature’s session.