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James MacPherson, Associated Press , Published March 17 2013

North Dakota Legislature: Abortion top issues at Capitol this week

BISMARCK — Abortion, guns and taxes. The North Dakota Legislature is expected to consider those and other measures this week as the session marches through the second full week after its midsession break.

ABORTION

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has until Wednesday to sign or veto two abortion measures that would make North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation to get the procedure.

North Dakota's Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a pair of anti-abortion bills, one banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting the procedure because of genetic defects such as Down syndrome. If the governor signs the measures, North Dakota would be the only state in the country with those laws.

Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley said he and the governor mulled several measures over the weekend and were slated to meet Monday to discuss the abortion bills, among others. Wrigley would not comment on whether the governor would sign or veto the abortion measures.

Abortion-rights activists have promised a long and costly legal battle over the measures if they become law.

MORE ABORTION

Lawmakers in the House may vote this week on a package of anti-abortion bills that have passed the Senate, including a measure that would require a doctor who performs abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges. Other bills would ban the destruction of human embryos and outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that fetuses that old can feel pain.

Opponents say it is designed to close the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, has told lawmakers that the clinic's three doctors perform about 25 abortions weekly and 60 percent of the clinic's patients “are already mothers with at least one child at home.”

PACKING HEAT

North Dakota's Senate has set aside one of the biggest meeting rooms at the Capitol to hear testimony on a package of gun-rights measures already approved by the House.

The House measures 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. Another measure 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.

About 30 states have enacted such laws after New Orleans police confiscated guns while trying to restore order following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The North Dakota measure also would allow the sale of firearms and ammunition during a declared emergency.

Supporters of the gun-rights proposals have said the aim is create an efficient and cost-effective way to protect people at school and at church. Just passing the law also would serve as a deterrent, they said.

The number of concealed carry permits in North Dakota has quadrupled in the past decade, to more than 22,000. State Bureau of Criminal Investigation records show the agency issued 12,614 concealed carry permits in 2012, up from 5,634 in 2011. Permits are on the rise statewide, especially in the oil patch communities of western North Dakota.

OIL TAX RESTRUCTURING

Democrats have notified reporters that they've sharpened their pencils and done some recalculating on a GOP-backed measure to restructure oil taxes in North Dakota.

The measure is aimed at closing loopholes enjoyed by oil companies in exchange for lower tax rates in North Dakota.

Democrats have called the measure radical and reckless, saying it would cost the state more than $595 million in lost revenue in the first five years. Republicans say the tax cut will ensure that companies continue drilling in North Dakota.

Democrats say they have refigured the financial impact and have called the yet-to-be released numbers “stunning.”