Associated Press, Published March 03 2013
North Dakota Legislature: Lawmakers reach halfway markBISMARCK — The North Dakota Legislature finished work on more than 900 bills last week, and after a break, House members will begin working Wednesday on Senate bills, and vice versa.
Lawmakers call the change “crossover.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the Legislature is “making good progress in addressing the state's priorities.”
The Republican governor already has signed into law a Senate bill that makes $720 million immediately available for road improvement projects statewide. That bill was fast tracked so that construction projects can begin this spring.
Dalrymple also signed into law a House bill that makes $31 million immediately available for rural water projects in North Dakota.
During the second half of the session, lawmakers will continue mulling a $766 million property tax relief package and income tax cuts for individuals and businesses pegged at more than $250 million.
Republicans have two-thirds control in both the North Dakota House and Senate.
At the session's halfway point, 341 of the 511 House bills have passed and now go the Senate.
Highlights of House action include:
MEDICAID EXPANSION — Several Republican House members testified that they don't like the federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama, including the plan to expand Medicaid. But the lawmakers said it's in the best interest of the state to accept it because of the potential for North Dakota residents to shoulder more costs if they didn't.
DRONES — The House passed a measure requiring a warrant to use unmanned planes for surveillance on citizens. Drones could not be armed with weapons or used to investigate misdemeanor crimes or traffic infractions.
GUNS — The House approved a package of gun-rights measures that include allowing a concealed-carry permit holder to pack a gun at public gatherings, schools and churches if officials in those places allow it and notify law enforcement. The House also approved a bill that allows people to have a gun in public during a declared state of emergency. That measure gives gun owners the right to sue if the government attempts to confiscate weapons or ammunition during the emergency.
In the Senate, 405 bills were introduced and 293 passed and will move on to the House, according to the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Senate highlights include:
ABORTION — The Senate has endorsed measures aimed at strengthening North Dakota already-strict abortion laws. Among the measures approved are a ban on the destruction of human embryos and outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point a fetus can feel pain. Another measure requires a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.
OIL TAXES — Loopholes enjoyed by oil companies would be closed in exchange for lower tax rates on drillers.
CHANCELLOR BUYOUT — North Dakota's Senate reconsidered and endorsed a proposal to buy out the last two years of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's three-year contract. Shirvani has come under criticism for what some lawmakers described as an overly aggressive management style. The proposal provides about $854,000 for the buyout but does not require the Board of Higher Education to fire Shirvani.