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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 22 2013

ND legislative notebook: Some funding for oil counties restored

BISMARCK – Some of the funding for western North Dakota counties that was stripped out of a bill last week, and drew heat from many, has now been restored.

Senate lawmakers adopted changes Monday to House Bill 1358 that now will now provide $1.1 billion to oil-impacted counties.

The measure passed unanimously and will go to a conference committee where the House and Senate will have to find consensus on a funding plan. The House version of the bill had $1.2 billion.

“My No. 1 goal this session is to make sure money gets spent and something gets done,” Sen. Dwight Cook said. “This money is not going to sit around in a fund.”

Cook, R-Mandan, authored Monday’s changes after hearing from many western North Dakota residents, lawmakers and lobbyists who were worried the funding that was removed from the bill last week for hospitals, medical service providers and infrastructure would not be restored.

Monday’s changes put back $100 million for the Department of Transportation, but did not include the $6 million for nursing home grants, $10 million for critical access hospitals or

$6 million for medical service providers.

Cook said funding for hospitals is in Senate Bill 2187, which creates a Bank of North Dakota Medical Facility Infrastructure Loan Program.

Cook said the bill will likely get a large makeover again in conference committee and the complete funding has a chance of being restored.

The concept of the bill is to provide funding for oil-impacted counties and designated “hub cities,” which are defined as a city with more than 12,500 people and 1 percent of its employees working in the oil or mining field. Funding increases with each percentage of its population working in the oil industry.

The hub city definition would apply to Williston, Dickinson and Minot.

Medical amnesty

House lawmakers made a second attempt to provide immunity from criminal charges if an individual was a minor, or reported a minor as having a drug or alcohol overdose.

House Bill 1412 failed Friday by a 49-34 vote and needed a majority vote Monday to be reconsidered. The motion failed 40-51.

The bill said an individual would be immune from criminal prosecution if law enforcement or emergency medical services were contacted and informed that an individual was in need of medical assistance because of alcohol or drug consumption.

To receive the immunity, he or she would have to remain on the scene until assistance arrived and cooperate with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel to provide information for medical attention, or if they were the individual in need of medical assistance.

The bill originally asked to provide immunity for just alcohol offenses. The Senate added immunity for drug possession.

Many said including drugs in the bill would create a loophole or exemption that would allow more people to use drugs and not be convicted of a crime.

“Extending this to felonies for immunity is the wrong way to go,” Rep. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, said Monday.

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, said the bill would be a “protection for individuals that are smart enough to make the right decision.”

Beadle urged the House to reconsider the bill, arguing over the past five years there have been more deaths because of drug overdoses than alcohol, and the bill would help decrease those numbers.

“It’s something that can encourage the stupid people that are already doing drugs and even dumber people that are overdosing on drugs,” he said. “It might encourage some of them to actually come forward and seek some help when they need it.”

Flaring

Lawmakers hope to give oil companies incentives to reduce the amount of flaring by creating a sales and use tax exemption for materials used to collect natural gas.

The law already provides the exemption for materials used in compressing, processing, gathering and refining gas, but does not specifically outline collecting.

To qualify for the exemption, under House Bill 1134, flaring of gas from a well must stop and the well can either be capped, connected to a gas gathering line, equipped with an electrical generator that consumes at least 75 percent of the gas, equipped with a system that intakes at least 75 percent of the gas for beneficial consumption, or equip it with another value-added process approved by the Industrial Commission that reduces flaring by more than 60 percent.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate on Monday and goes to Gov. Jack Dalrymple to sign into law.