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Published February 03 2013

North Dakota Legislature: What to watch this week

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Legislature promises to provide fireworks this week as lawmakers consider lifting a ban on bottle rocket sales and debate a proposal to restructure oil taxes in the state.

Here’s a look at what’s expected:

Lift the bottle rocket ban

The biennial debate over bottle rockets has been sparked again in the state Legislature.

Lawmakers are expected to weigh whether to lift a 4-year-old ban on selling skyrockets. The last effort was a dud.

Eye doctors helped the Legislature see the need to ban bottle rocket sales two sessions ago, in 2009. Last session, in 2011, the House voted down an attempt to overturn the ban.

The current law still allows people to possess and shoot off bottle rockets.

Oil taxes

Speaking of fireworks, North Dakota Democrats have blasted a Republican-backed plan to restructure oil taxes in the state.

Senate Democratic minority leader Mac Schneider says the plan is radical and reckless. He says the measure could cost the people of North Dakota more than $595 million in the first five years.

Republican Sen. Dwight Cook of Mandan says the bill introduced last week attempts to bring certainty and stability to the oil industry and the state.

The legislation closes some loopholes for the oil industry in exchange for a lower tax rate beginning in 2017.

Cook says he worked with oil companies to craft the proposed legislation.

Oil industry representatives so far have been mum on the measure, but they likely won't be this week when it comes before the Senate.

Drug testing for public assistance?

Several Republican lawmakers have proposed drug testing for certain recipients of public assistance – and they want the needy to pay for the testing to ensure public money isn’t funding an addiction problem.

HB1385 would require people who get public assistance from the Temporary Help for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to submit to drug testing. “The cost of the drug testing is the responsibility of the individual tested,” the measure says.

The state could deny public assistance for one year after the date of a positive drug test, and three years after the date of a second positive test.

New digs for governor?

North Dakota is awash in dollars, so is it time to buy the state’s First Family a new home?

HB1379 would authorize the construction of a new governor’s residence on the state Capitol grounds, along with a so-called executive conference center. The measure would authorize

$3 million for the new dwelling and allow another $3 million from “private donations or other sources.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has not endorsed the idea.

North Dakota’s present Governor’s Residence was completed in 1960 and is an example of prairie style architecture. A major renovation was completed in 2000.

The home is the second official residence that has been built for North Dakota's governors. The original Governor's Mansion, built in 1884, is located a few blocks south of the Capitol.

Agency name change

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working to change the name of the state Department of Labor to the state Department of Labor and Human Rights.

The lengthened title comes at a cost. Budget analysts estimate that adding the three words to the agency’s moniker will cost more than $5,900 over the next two years.

The biggest cost in the name change would be $2,000 for the mass mailing of posters highlighting the new name change. New business cards and staff name tags are pegged at about $1,250.

Developing a new logo for the renamed agency is estimated at $444, based on staff time and graphic design costs. That new logo would adorn a door at the agency at a cost of $175.

Bravo for Bohl

The Legislature is slated to honor North Dakota State University coach Craig Bohl for guiding the Bison to back-to-back NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision titles.

The Thundering Herd stomped Sam Houston State 39-13 last month to claim the title, improving to 10-1 in the FCS playoffs with their eighth straight postseason win.

A commendation for Bohl says the team has “repeatedly brought North Dakotans and Bison fans worldwide to their feet to applaud their achievements.”

Bohl could get more kudos down the line if the team continues its winning ways. He's agreed to an eight-year contract extension through 2021.