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James MacPherson, Associated Press , Published February 17 2013

North Dakota Legislature: What to watch this week

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Legislature is approaching its midsession break in a couple of weeks and lawmakers are busy introducing and finishing voting on bills in their respective chambers. And many of the major spending bills are still being considered this week in House and Senate appropriations committees as the session heads to “crossover.”

Here’s a look at some legislative highlights:

Donation deduction

North Dakotans could get a tax credit for making a contribution to a nonprofit organization that operates a homeless shelter in the state under a bill that unanimously passed the Senate last week. It now heads to the House.

Michael Carbone, director of the North Dakota Homeless Coalition, says increased donations will help. He said the state has an immediate need for at least 1,500 beds statewide.

Carbone said people are coming from across the country to North Dakota, drawn by the state’s strong oil-fueled economy. The housing shortage in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch has swelled throughout the state, he said.

The homeless in North Dakota include people from out of state and residents who have been “priced out” of housing markets due to skyrocketing rental rates.

Carbone said homeless people have been found living everywhere from “haystacks to grain bins.” Three homeless people have died this winter from exposure, he said.

Anatomical gifts

School districts that offer driver education courses would be required to include information about anatomical gifts under a measure apparently meant to increase sign-ups.

The bill, slated to be mulled by a House committee this week, also requires schools offering driver training to notify parents of the information given to their teens about becoming organ donors.

Suicide prevention

A Senate measure would allow, but not require, North Dakota school districts to provide junior high and high school teachers and administrators two hours of professional training regarding youth suicide prevention.

The measure would direct the superintendent of public instruction to develop guidelines for training and make self-study materials available at no charge.

Discrimination bill

North Dakota’s first openly gay legislator says an anti-discrimination bill killed in the Senate is far from dead.

Fargo Rep. Josh Boschee said a similar measure will most certainly appear next session.

The Senate rejected the measure that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace. The bill was defeated in a close 26-21 vote last week.

Similar legislation introduced in 2009 passed the Senate but failed in a House committee.

Stay off the brass

Beware: Some sergeants at arms get touchy if you lay a finger on brass columns or rails in the House and Senate chambers – for good reason. The heavy patina that had built up over the decades has been wiped away and polished as part of a $1 million interior project completed last year. The makeover also included refinishing some of the mahogany, walnut and maple surfaces in the Capitol’s interior.

The exterior of the Capitol, one of North Dakota’s tallest buildings at 242 feet, also was recently spruced up. The $1.8 million project involved scrubbing limestone blocks and replacing the caulk between them.

North Dakota’s Capitol was completed in 1934, about four years after the original statehouse burned. Cuts were made so that the building would stay within its $2 million budget in Depression-era dollars.