Minot legislators identify accomplishments
Key funding, tax relief
Money for childcare, school construction and transportation infrastructure were among highlights for Minot legislators of the 2023 session that concluded April 30.
Sen. David Hogue, who served as Senate Majority Leader, listed several areas in which he believes the Legislature advanced good public policy, including tax relief, animal agriculture, workforce development and the fentanyl epidemic.
“With our budget surplus heading north of $2.5 billion coming into the session, I knew we needed to prioritize tax relief,” Hogue said. “I was looking for a package north of $500 million and we landed right around $570 million in new tax relief. For an average family with two wage earners who owns their home, the state will provide about $1,000 of income and property tax relief, which includes the new $500 per household of property tax relief for each home.”
In addition to the $515 million main tax relief package, legislators passed other relief, including an additional $50 million to continue the takeover of county social services. Legislators approved income-tax exemptions for military members and on the retirement pay for peace officers.
On animal agriculture, legislators achieved a compromise that takes the shackles off development of large dairy and swing farms, Hogue said.
“Profitability of dairy production requires size on the order of over 1,000 dairy cows. To be competitive, those operations need to have access to capital in the tens of millions of dollars. I think we will see some companies attempt to relocate or start new operations in North Dakota,” he said.
In addition to the $65 million childcare package to address workforce, the Legislature created a program to encourage employers to cost share with the state to support childcare, he said. As a result of legislative action, the state will open an immigration office within the Commerce Department to help develop immigration expertise to attract and retain legal immigrants.
Hogue also worked on legislation that increases the criminal sanctions for intermediate fentanyl dealers who cause serious injury, strengthens the reporting requirements for fentanyl overdose deaths and injuries and allocates resources to educate the public about the prevalence of fentanyl in other illegal drugs and prescribed drugs.
Sen. Randy Burckhard said one of the important bills in the 2023 session was House Bill 1532, referred to as the school choice bill. Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed the bill, which would have provided funding to support students attending private schools.
Burckhard said he was disappointed to see the bill fail. Both private schools and public schools raise future taxpayers, yet the state leaves private-school students to fund their own education, he said.
“There’s just something wrong about that, in my mind,” he said.
On the other hand, the most rewarding legislative action for him was passage of $850,000 for the Minot community for base retention and preparing for the economic impact associated with the coming installation of a new missile system. A bill that started with $900,000 for Minot took various turns up until the final days of the session.
“I worked pretty hard for that, and then we got $500,000, which I was disappointed in,” Burckhard said of Senate Bill 2240. Through additional discussions, legislators added an additional $350,000 to a separate Commerce Department bill for Minot Air Force Base retention.
Sen. Karen Krebsbach said water has been of uppermost importance for this region, so the $86 million for the Northwest Area Water Supply Project and $76 million for flood control were accomplishments this session.
“There is a statewide plan for completion of both projects,” she said.
Other achievements in addition to the statewide tax relief and workforce measures include the $5 million appropriation for an environmental study of a portion of U.S. Highway 52 from Minot to Voltaire, she said. Due to the heavy passenger traffic and commercial use of the highway, four-laning the roadway from the Canadian border to Jamestown is the goal, she said.
“This is a beginning for that to happen,” Krebsbach said of the study.
Sen. Bob Paulson called property-tax relief that goes directly to the taxpayer via a rebate for a primary residence a “significant win” this session. Combined with an improved Homestead Tax Credit and lower income tax rates, the tax credit will provide a positive impact for many North Dakotans, he said.
Paulson also said he was pleased the Legislature passed laws to help protect the innocence and safety of children and supported his bill that provides protection from discrimination for students and employees of higher education institutions if they refuse to endorse the tenets of Critical Race Theory. He added he sees a positive future impact from Senate Bill 2371, which he sponsored to prohibit ownership of real property in North Dakota by a foreign adversary.
“There is more work to be done in this regard, but this bill provides the first step in the process and includes a mandatory study that will identify next steps to further refine the prohibition,” he said.
An improvement to correctional services for women was a highlight of the session for Rep. Randy Schobinger.
“Starting in 2019 I became an advocate to move our female inmates out of New England, and closer to services in the Bismarck/Mandan area. As a member of the 2019 interim Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Review Committee we commissioned a comprehensive study of the system. The most critical recommendation we received back was to make the move. While all other committee members supported a remodel of existing buildings, I have always been supportive of a new purpose-built facility. This legislative session we approved the buildout,” he said.
“Also, following a 2019 tour of the State Hospital in Jamestown I became supportive of building a new State Hospital situation. As a member of the 2021 interim Acute Psychiatric Treatment Committee, we received a study recommendation to start the process. This session we approved $12.5 million for the planning and development of the new State Hospital. While it’s always a bit more difficult getting legislation passed for folks who aren’t a constituency group to the politicians, this legislative session we proved it can happen. And for that I am extremely proud,” he added.
Rep. Dan Ruby identified one of the most significant actions of the session as moving the public employees retirement plan to a defined contribution similar to a 401K.
“This has been attempted many times throughout the years. The initial costs will be high to make sure everyone who is under the pension plan is held completely harmless. They will receive what they were promised and what they paid into,” he said.
Ruby also introduced four bills that ultimately were signed into law by the governor.
One allows a family with a disabled member to get a mobility-impaired logo on a license plate without the disabled person having to be named on the title of the vehicle. Ruby said people were required to put them on the title, even if a child, and in many cases the value of the vehicle could have jeopardized their disability benefits if the vehicle went over an asset cap.
He also pushed through a bill that requires delivery network companies, such as Door Dash, to insure the driver’s car when being used to make deliveries. Unless drivers get commercial riders on their policies, they are driving uninsured, he said.
Additionally, he saw passage of his bill allowing cigar lounges, which had fallen a vote short when introduced in 2021.
Rep. Scott Louser agreed with Ruby that closing the defined benefit pension for new public employee hires was an achievement, taking six sessions to accomplish. The Legislature created a funding mechanism to pay off the $1.9 billion unfunded liability associated with the pension.
“This has been an extremely long process, and we are including local political subdivisions, holding property taxes down for their roughly 60% portion of the liability. I’m also proud of the income and property tax relief measures we passed and the continued state funding for flood protection to Minot from the State Water Commission,” Louser said.
But he said he is most proud of House Bills 1185 and 1186, which he sponsored and that were rolled into other funding bills. The bills provide low-interest school construction loans to districts, such as Minot, that passed bond issues that were met by unexpected inflationary costs. One bill enables Minot Public Schools the opportunity to borrow $5 million at 2% interest from the Coal Development Trust Fund, and the other creates an opportunity to refinance up to $20 million debt at 2% interest, Louser said.
“In the second case, the bill passage could save the Minot property-tax payers upwards of $20 million over 20 years. Both were urgent for our community and passed in the final week of session,” he said.
Rep. Jay Fisher said he was pleased the Legislature was able to return $515 million to North Dakota taxpayers, which included $358 million in income-tax relief and $157 million in property-tax relief. This is in addition to the $1.5 billion the state provides in property-tax relief to local communities, Fisher said.
“We also invested heavily in North Dakota’s transportation infrastructure, including township, county and state roads and bridges, and provided funding for the Northwest Area Water Supply system and Souris Basin flood control,” he said. “State employee compensation was increased to help retain our valuable university and college personnel, state troopers, snow-plow operators and others.
“We passed important legislation on Growing Animal Agriculture, allowing farmers and ranchers to consolidate capital to feed more livestock in North Dakota, raising our rank from 34th in the nation by utilizing some of our co-products from our second-ranking crop production capacity and add tremendous value to the state’s economy,” he added. “We supported legislation promoting coal, oil and gas, mining rare earth minerals, building natural gas takeaway capacity and natural gas pipeline projects to increase North Dakota’s capacity for more value-added industry.”
Reps. Jeff Hoverson and Lori VanWinkle, completing her first session, said they were pleased to see children protected, including from attempts to alter their genders through removing body parts and risky hormone blockers.
Van Winkle said she was glad to see females were ensured their deserved privacy and honor in school bathrooms. The governor recently signed that bill.
“I’m super glad that we upheld a standard for children and passed HB1333, which prohibits drag shows among minors, and HB1205, which had a purpose of stopping the agenda of pushing inappropriate sexualized, perverse and pornographic content to children by taxpayer dollars at public libraries – which is already illegal because of obscenity and child abuse code, but for some reason, the pervert mafia doesn’t care about our law, and are intentionally allowing this information, pushed by the ALA (American Library Association), to be disseminated. But parents are furious and fighting back. So I am also proud of North Dakotans who will fight for the moral foundation and future of our state,” VanWinkle said.
Of the 11 bills he sponsored, Hoverson said he was most pleased to see passage of House Bill 1111, which proactively stops any International Health Regulation from being enforced in the state.