Event Recap: North Dakota’s Legislative Session

Written by: FMWF Chamber of Commerce

Photo courtesy of the FMWF Chamber of Commerce

Craig Whitney
President & CEO
Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce

The drawn-out 65th Legislative Session in North Dakota was nothing short of interesting—at times, even contentious. The budget was uncertain—there was talk of taxes and oil, some major new bills to regulate, an influx of residents to account for and a pipeline protest on top of it all.

To take a look at all these issues and more, we hosted key legislators at an Eggs & Issues event last month. House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R), Assistant House Minority Leader Kathy Hogan (D), Sen. Jim Roers (R) and Sen. Judy Lee (R) sat down to talk about the issues they saw this session.

All legislators—regardless of party line or constituency—were in for an uphill battle, with nearly $2 billion less revenue to spend across the board. Carlson said it took them all biennium to figure out how to make that work. However, despite some hiccups, our state still saw many wins.

“It’s important because, if we rolled into a drought cycle, instead of worrying about a diversion, we’d be wondering how the 240,000 people in our community will have drinking water. Without water, you have no more industry. You have no more growth.”

There was a nearly $70 million commitment to Fargo’s interior flood protection and the FM Diversion, with the state picking up half of the local share.

Money was committed toward the plan and the design of a Red River water supply, which is now getting closer. “It’s important because, if we rolled into a drought cycle, instead of worrying about a diversion, we’d be wondering how the 240,000 people in our community will have drinking water,” Carlson said. “Without water, you have no more industry. You have no more growth.”

Some other wins noted by Sen. Lee:

  • Task forces forming in the areas of children’s behavioral health
  • Expanded authority for a brain-injury advisory council
  • Required behavioral health training for school employees
  • A $150,000 pilot project between the Department of Human Services and an urban school for early intervention and prevention of children’s behavioral health challenges
  • Expanded community services
  • Syringe exchange program to combat substance abuse
  • Measures for trained healthcare professionals to cross over into other areas, which could help the current nursing shortage
  • The securities industry’s new model legislation to report suspicious transactions of brokered homes to protect financially vulnerable adults

Across the board, the expansion for Medicare was also praised. Among the most concerning cut was to higher education, which Carlson admitted was painful. At the end of the session, though, they were able to restore some money back via challenge grants and Research ND, a North Dakota Department of Commerce grant program, and allocate more than $1.5 million for North Dakota State University’s Minard Hall.

We also saw an attack on incentive programs such as renaissance zones, tax-increment financing (TIFs), and angel funds, but the end result—due to committee diligence—was to keep all programs intact, albeit adjusted.

County-based social services lacked funding and became linked to the property-tax relief fund. This biennium, $275 million was allocated for property tax relief, but instead we’ll get more than $130 million for the entire state. Hogan suspects we’ll see a property tax increase by 2019 because of this and voiced her concern for social services in rural counties due to the model change.

Of course, we can’t talk about this session without mentioning the medical marijuana bill approved by voters in November. Sen. Lee spoke to a large amount of work legislators did to see this legislation through, including decriminalizing and regulating it. They were able to set up rules for designated caregivers, registrant ID cards, growers and manufacturers, and state-run dispensaries. She suspects it will take about a year for it to take effect and even predicted that we will see a measure for recreational marijuana in two years.

One common thread each panelist spoke to was a misperception that they didn’t get along. Though they differed on some issues and had budget barriers, they were able to rally together and, in the end, reach the best outcome they could for our state and our communities. I have to applaud their dedication to the process and thank each for their time and talents. No city or state is without challenges, but I am confident that our lawmakers have our best interests in mind, and I remain proud to be a resident of North Dakota.

FMWF Chamber of Commerce

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The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce is a bi-state, regional federation of over 2,100 private, public and non-profit member firms representing more than 109,000 people. The largest local chamber in North Dakota and Minnesota, The Chamber advocates for a strong metropolitan community and supports the interests of its members, which are located in Cass and Clay Counties and beyond.