Confused about North Dakota's legislative session? Here's a recap and look ahead
Senate Majority Leader David Hogue, R-Minot, told his colleagues his goal is to finish hearing House bills in about 25 workdays, or around April 5.
BISMARCK — Tax cuts, culture war issues and workforce woes will be on North Dakota lawmakers' plates when they return to Bismarck next week for their session's second half.
Of 980 bills and resolutions introduced, lawmakers have advanced more than 700 pieces of legislation and killed more than 200.
The session picks up again Wednesday after a nearly weeklong break. The House and Senate now swap passed legislation.
Senate Majority Leader David Hogue, R-Minot, told his colleagues his goal is to finish hearing House bills in about 25 workdays, or around April 5. House-Senate conference committees will then come together to reconcile differences on bills.
“I’m hoping to push us hard,” Hogue said.
His goal is to use 73 of the 80 days allowed for the session. That would leave seven days for lawmakers to address any revenue shortfalls that might arise beyond April, he said. The 2021 Legislature used 76 days.
Hogue and House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, commended the strong working relationships between chambers. The two leaders meet regularly with each other and Gov. Doug Burgum, Hogue said.
Lefor said House and Senate leaders worked to find agreement early on, which he said allows for more time later in the session “on things you don’t agree on” and a “smoother second half.”
The Legislature’s budget writers in March will revise a state tax revenue forecast, which will better guide their work, including what raises to give state employees.
A state budget office report released Monday showed general fund revenues through January running 24% or $785 million ahead of the Legislature’s 2021-23 forecast.
The stage is set for a tax cut showdown between House and Senate leaders.
With Burgum’s backing, the House passed several proposals to slash income taxes, including two bills that would eliminate or nearly erase the tax for lower earners and establish a flat tax for higher earners.
The Senate approved legislation that would shift some of the burden of property taxes from homeowners to the state. One bill would reduce property taxes statewide by about 17%, while another would primarily benefit homeowners ages 65 and up.
Legislative leaders have said the rival proposals could be merged into a mix of income and property tax cuts by the end of the session.
Lawmakers also have passed a handful of tax incentives, credits and exemptions this session.
The chambers advanced several bills backed by the oil industry, including legislation to abolish a higher tax rate triggered by elevated oil prices, and to give oil producers tax breaks for “refracking” old wells.
The House gave the green light to sales tax exemptions on diapers and materials used by farmers, the coal industry and drug manufacturers, but representatives voted down a bill to make tampons tax free.
Lawmakers have passed a myriad of bills that would restrict health care, activities and personal expression for transgender residents.
The House approved legislation to ban gender-affirming care for minors, to inhibit transgender people's use of restrooms and to limit transgender girls and women athletes in North Dakota K-12 and college sports.
Both chambers advanced bills that would restrict school districts and their governing boards from creating policies to accommodate transgender students.
Lawmakers are weighing ideas to boost workforce and child care in a state with more than 30,000 open jobs.
Budget writers have handled a slate of Burgum initiatives, including increased child care assistance and an expansion of the state’s “Find the Good Life” campaign for marketing North Dakota and its communities and recruiting workers.
Other proposals include the establishment of a state immigration office to help bring foreign workers into the state and connect them with employers, changes to occupational licensing boards’ requirements and procedures, a tax credit for middle-income families’ child care costs, and a streamlined criminal background check process for child care workers, among other bills.
Lawmakers advanced bills targeting “explicit sexual material” in libraries.
Supporters say the legislation would protect children from pornography. Opponents say the bills are censorship and would subject librarians to criminal penalties.
Much of the debate has centered around the visual nudity in drawings in the book “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human.”
Conservative legislators have put forth plans to revise North Dakota’s abortion laws as the state Supreme Court considers whether to allow a near-total ban to take effect.
The Senate advanced a bill that aims to reconcile differences between the abortion ban caught up in court and the state’s other abortion laws, according to sponsor Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg.
The proposal addresses doctors’ worries about treating pregnant women experiencing life-threatening complications, though it would limit abortions for victims of rape and incest to just the first six weeks of a pregnancy.
Looming over the Legislature is the future of the state’s public employee defined-benefit pension plan. Lawmakers will weigh two competing bills for addressing the fund’s $1.9 billion shortfall, and whether to preserve the plan or transition it to a defined-contribution, 401(k)-style plan for future hires starting in 2025.
Lefor says a defined-contribution plan offers “portability” that younger, future workers will want, and would be a competitive benefit amid high turnover in state government in recent years.
Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, says his bill to preserve and shore up the pension fund is a “responsible” solution for maintaining the pension plan. The union that represents state employees wants to stick with the pension plan.
Both bills seek a massive, one-time cash infusion into the fund to make it solvent.
Lawmakers in the first half of the session killed bills to ban mail ballots, to legalize medical marijuana edible products, and to expand where concealed guns can be carried .
Other unsuccessful bills included ones to establish state-administered paid family leave, to limit prescription drug prices for public employees, to require identifying information from open-records requesters, and to mandate two House committees be chaired by women.
Jack Dura is a reporter for The Bismarck Tribune. Jeremy Turley is a reporter for Forum News Service.