Legislators field questions at Chamber of Commerce forum

Andrea Johnson/MDN Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, answers a question during the Minot Chamber of Commerce legislative forum on Saturday morning as Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, left, looks on.

Area legislators made no promises Saturday that the 2018 legislative session will be concluded by April Fool’s Day, the next scheduled Minot Chamber of Commerce legislative forum at the All Seasons Arena in Minot.

Instead, they answered questions during the bi-weekly legislative forum about the progress of current bills.

A bill that would have allowed businesses in the state to open on Sunday mornings was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, said he thought the failure came down to a difference in sensibilities between urban and rural legislators. Also on the table were church vs. secular issues.

“… I think the religious aspect of it, that we have to spend more time with family,” was on the minds of legislators who opposed changing the remainder of the Sunday blue laws, he told the audience.

Burckhard said the issue may yet come to a vote of the people.

Another issue that continues to attract heated debate is House Bill 1434, which would mandate that insurance companies provide coverage for autism treatment.

Burckhard said supporters of the bill want something in writing.

“This group does not believe that insurance companies will come through if it’s not mandated,” he said.

However, opponents, including Sen Oley Larsen, R-Minot, believe that families with autistic children may actually end up receiving less insurance coverage if the bill passes. For instance, providers for Applied Behavior Analysis – what one person at the Saturday forum called the “gold standard treatment” – would have to be certified. Currently, not every provider of ABA in the area has certification. If the bill is passed, that might result in a disruption of services for some children with autism, the speaker said.

The current version of the bill would mandate that the maximum annual benefit that must be provided by an insurance company in the state for ABA would be $36,000 for a child under age 7; $25,000 for children between the ages of 7 and 14; and $12,500 for children between the ages of 14 and 18.

The bill is currently in the Human Services Committee. A legislator predicted it will come back with a “do not pass” recommendation.

Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, also predicted the defeat of a provision of Senate Bill 2221, which would allow pari-mutuel betting on races that have already been run. Maragos said the bill has support among the State Racing Commission and people in horse racing. It would be a form of entertainment that would provide funding for the equine industry. But Maragos said charitable gaming supporters would likely oppose the idea, as would others who are fed up with gambling bills.

“There’s such a thing as gaming fatigue right now,” said Maragos.

A bill that would create a new section of the constitution authorizing up to six state-owned casinos in the state received a “do not pass” recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee on March 15. The bill attracted strong opposition from charitable gaming and American Indian tribes during a committee hearing.

Senate Bill 2221 is currently in the Judiciary Committee.