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Campaign bills get panel approval

BISMARCK - The House Judiciary Committee has given two campaign finance bills do-pass recommendations, including the state's first-ever cap on donation amounts.

BISMARCK - The House Judiciary Committee has given two campaign finance bills do-pass recommendations, including the state's first-ever cap on donation amounts.

House Bill 1297, sponsored by all Republicans, got a bi-partisan 12-1 recommendation after the committee adopted a Democrat's amendment to extend the restrictions.

The bill originally limited campaign donations from federal political committees and state political parties to legislative candidates in an apparent response to large amounts Democratic-NPL legislative candidates got last year from their state party and the all-Democratic congressional delegation's political action committees.

Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, offered an amendment extending the limit to all individual donors.

If passed into law, state parties, federal PACs and individuals won't be able to give more than $3,000 to a legislative candidate each year, or $6,000 in an election year. Judiciary Chairman Rep. Duane DeKrey noted it allows incumbent legislators to collect $15,000 from each type of restricted donor during a four-year term.

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The bill doesn't restrict the size of donations to or from legislative candidates' district parties, nor from legislative caucuses, nor to any other candidates. The state currently has no upper limits on state and local office campaign donations.

Another bill, House Bill 1499, adds so-called "527" groups to the list of political groups that have to report donations and expenditures in the state. It got an 11-3 do-pass recommendation.

House rejects racing panel bill

The House on Tuesday defeated a bill that would have put horsemen on the North Dakota Racing Commission on a 50-41 vote.

The issue is contentious because it would undo current law that bars anyone from being on the commission or employed by the commission who has a financial stake in the horse racing industry, such as horse owners, breeders, jockeys and trainers.

The current law is designed to prevent conflicts of interest because the commission's duties include distributing as grants funds for purses at the state's live racing meets and breeders' awards to horsemen who have raised winning horses.

But horsemen and legislators who favored House Bill 1180 said commissioners who are appointed with no knowledge horse racing or pari-mutuel betting and they said there are no checks and balances on the commission.

Rep. Rod Froehlich, D-Selfridge, said the industry "should be governed by the people being governed."

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Bill doubles rainy

day fund

The House on Tuesday passed a bill doubling the state's budget stabilization fund. Also known as the rainy day fund, it has about $100 million now and House Bill 1429 expands it to $200 million.

It can only be tapped for spending if state revenues are running 2.5 percent or more below forecasts "The money that we put in the fund today will help to ensure that critical services our state provides will not be drastically cut in the middle of a biennium if we experience a shortfall," said Rep. Ken Svedjan, R-Grand Forks, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The fund was created in 1987 but sat empty for many years until the 2005 Legislature put it to use for a surplus that was building. It is now part of the state's surplus that is expected to be more than $500 million by June 30.

The doubling of the fund "tells the people of North Dakota that we are concerned about the future" and the possibility of ups and downs in the state economy, House Majority Leader Rick Berg, R-Fargo, said.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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