Record budget, notable policy changes in legislative session
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers wrapped up their session with a record $14.7 billion budget spurred by a rebounding economy due largely to strong oil prices and production.
Over 76 days, lawmakers also approved about 500 bills — and talked about many more that didn’t pass. Here’s a look at the results from the every-two-years session likely to have the most impact on daily lives:
OPERATION PRAIRIE DOG
A major spending plan named for an industrious burrowing mammal is aimed at rebuilding infrastructure projects outside of the state’s oil patch.
Operation Prairie Dog will provide $250 million in every two-year budget cycle for counties, cities and airports in non-oil producing areas. The legislation assumes that oil production and prices will hold at the current levels.
After many failed attempts over the years, the Legislature repealed the nation’s toughest Sunday business restrictions — rules that are rooted in religious tradition and that have been in place since statehood. The repeal would take effect Aug. 1.
The repeal of the ban on Sunday morning shopping takes effect Aug. 1.
North Dakota has had “blue laws” restricting business on Sunday since it became a state in 1889. They stemmed from fears that visiting a retail store on Sunday morning would compete with church and leave little time for rest.
The Legislature moved to make it more difficult for citizens to amend the state constitution. The legislation allows the Legislature to vote on an initiated measure following voters’ approval. The initiative would go back to voters for final approval if it fails to win lawmakers’ endorsement.
Citizens will have a chance to vote on the resolution next year.
DRUNKEN DRIVING RECORDS
Court records of convicted drunken drivers will now be sealed if they aren’t charged with another DUI or any other crime for seven years. Backers of the law say it aims to give convicted drunken drivers who stay out of trouble better odds of getting a job. The law does not apply to licensed commercial drivers.
American Indian students now are able to wear eagle feathers or plumes at school graduations. American Indians view the eagle feather and plumes as a symbol of honor and pride.
MISSING, SLAIN NATIVE AMERICANS
More law enforcement training will be required related to missing and slain Native Americans. Another new law requires data collection on all missing and slain people.
Lawmakers once again rejected legislation that would prohibit housing or workforce discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s the latest defeat for an idea that’s gone down several times in recent years.
SOCIAL SECURITY TAX
An income tax deduction on Social Security benefits was approved. The law eliminates state taxes up to $50,000 for single filers and $100,000 for married couples filing jointly.
The tax break will affect about 30,000 North Dakotans.
The exemptions will mean a cost to the state treasury of $7.3 million in the next two-year budget cycle.
MILITARY RETIREMENT PAY
Military retirement pay is now exempt from state income tax. The deduction is available to individuals or their survivors who receive military retirement pay. The exemption is effective for the 2019 tax year.
The state Tax Department says there are about 5,100 active duty military members, armed forces reservists and National Guard soldiers who would qualify for the pay exemption, at a cost of about $2.8 million every two years.
SHORTCHANGED OIL TAX
Millions of dollars of oil tax money is being redirected to funds that benefit water projects and schools. The legislation was reluctantly crafted by Republican leaders after Gov. Doug Burgum and some lawmakers from both parties said they believed the funds mandated by the constitution were shortchanged over many years.
The legislation will transfer $64.3 million to the common schools trust fund later this year and $128 million to the resources trust fund over as many as two decades.
Legal penalties have been increased for people who tamper with pipelines and groups that help them. The new law more clearly defines that it’s illegal to tamper with “critical infrastructure,” which includes everything from pipelines to cellphone towers to drinking water sources.
Someone who intentionally tampers with infrastructure faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It also increases those fines up to $100,000 for an organization found to have conspired with multiple individuals.
SECOND -COUSIN FARMING
A new law amends the state’s Depression-era anti-corporate farming law by allowing second cousins in the mix of ownership. The law dates to 1932, when it was put on the ballot as an initiated measure and approved by voters. It allows corporations with as many as 15 shareholders to own farms or ranches, as long as the shareholders are related.
The North Dakota Farmers Union says adding more relatives who can legally form a corporation or a limited liability corporation weakens the law.
Burial fees will be waived for a veteran’s spouse and dependents at the state Veterans Cemetery south of Mandan. The legislation sets aside $175,000 in the next two-year budget cycle to fund the burials. The legislation would become effective in March 2020.
BOGUS SERVICE ANIMALS
A new law makes it illegal to pass a pet off as a service animal. The bill makes it an infraction for falsely claiming a pet as a service animal to “gain admission to a public place” or obtain housing. A violation has a maximum fine of $1,000.
EXPANDED HIGHER ED BOARD
Voters will get to decide if expanding the state’s higher education board is good idea.
The Legislature passed a resolution that would expand the state’s higher education board from eight to 15 members. Burgum wanted multiple boards, saying it would make North Dakota’s 11 colleges and universities more accountable.
Voters must ultimately approve any changes to the higher education board because its structure is outlined in the state constitution.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE FEES
Owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be charged an annual fee.
The fees are $120 for electric vehicles, $50 for plug-in hybrid vehicles and $20 for electric motorcycles.
Backers of the legislation say all vehicles contribute to wear and tear on the state’s roads and drivers of electric and hybrid vehicles should pay their share.
It won’t be illegal to leave a vehicle idling while no one is in it.
Lawmakers repealed the law that was put on the books nearly 75 years ago as a deterrent against automobile theft.
Supporters say North Dakota’s current law ignores the will of the people.