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Politics & Government

AARP outlines Legislative priorities

Dec 17, 2018

AARP North Dakota is outlining its priorities for the 2019 Legislative session.

One big issue is taxation of Social Security benefits. North Dakota is one of only 13 states that tax Social Security benefits. And the state is one of four states that tax it at the full level the federal government does.

"We think the state should take a look at repealing that Social Security tax," said AARP state director Josh Askvig.

Askvig said this could help folks who are receiving a modest amount of Social Security benefits.

(Note: Story will be updated with action of the Board of Higher Education.)

The University of North Dakota wants to see if it can tap into a “revolving loan fund” set up for cities, counties and other political subdivisions to help pay for roads, curbs, gutters and similar improvements.

That loan fund is through the Bank of North Dakota.

"Of course, universities are not political subdivisions," UND Vice-President for Finance and Operations Jed Shivers told a subcommittee of the Board of Higher Education.

'Operation Prairie Dog' in motion at the Capitol

Dec 6, 2018

“Operation Prairie Dog” is underway.

That’s the nickname for a proposal to create new “buckets” for oil tax money to fund infrastructure projects outside of the oil patch. It would affect cities, counties, airports and townships.

The bill has been now introduced in the House.

"We wanted to start in the House for a couple of different reasons," said the bill's main sponsor, Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck). "We think it might be the heavier lift of the two chambers, just because we have a bigger body (than the Senate)."

Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Democratic Legislators are rolling out their priority list for the 2019 session.

Those priorities include more funding for schools, certain social programs, and for state employees. Their plan is to raise state employee pay by $300 a month in the first year of the biennium, and 3 percent across-the-board in the second year.

Sen. Tim Mathern (D-Farg0) told reporters state government is competing with a number of private sector jobs now available in North Dakota.

The Legislature’s Employee Benefits Committee has decided against recommending three bills that would change the state’s retirement system, and require state employees to pay part of their insurance coverage for family members.

North Dakota House Democrats have elected Fargo Rep. Josh Boschee as Minority Leader.

Boschee replaces Grand Forks Rep. Corey Mock, who did not seek re-election to that post.

House Democrats chose Fargo Rep. Karla Rose Hanson as assistant Minority Leader, and Fargo Rep. Gretchen Dobervich as caucus chair.

Boschee said while the Democratic caucus is small, it hopes to be able to make some progress on its issues, focusing on – as he put it – taking care of the citizens of North Dakota.

The Governor’s Prevention Advisory Council on Drugs and Alcohol wants to see more “early intervention” programs for school age children.

"One of the top concerns we hear at schools is behavioral health," said Pam Sagness, director of behavioral health regulation for the state department of Human Services, and a member of the Council. "So, how can we invest in the early intervention services, so we are building children who are resilient, and can bounce back when difficult things happen?"

Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The Public Service Commission has issued a “cease and desist” order against a Devils Lake man who owned both a grain elevator company and held a roving grain buyer’s license.

The PSC said it has received a number of complaints against Hunter Hanson and his two companies, NoDak Grain and Midwest Grain Trading, for bounced checks and unpaid contracts. The commission has received more than 50 contacts about this, and four client complaints have been filed.

Midwest Grain Trading has elevators in Tunbridge and Rohrville.

The chairman of the Legislature’s interim committee on Government Finance said revenue volatility is a given, in North Dakota's commodities-based economy.

The 2017 Legislative session authorized the study, after lawmakers had to make significant cuts in state spending. The Government Finance Committee was assigned the study.

The chairman -- Sen. Ron Sorvaag (R-Fargo) said the committee didn’t make any recommendations on that issue for the 2019 session.

"We have reserves," Sorvaag said. "We budget conservatively. That's a good way to handle it."

North Dakota House Republicans have chosen their leaders for the 2019 Legislature.

Rep. Chet Pollert (R-Carrington) was elected House Majority Leader. He succeeds former Rep. Al Carlson (R-Fargo), who was defeated in the November election.

Pollert was elected on the second ballot, besting Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot) and Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck).

Pollert was first elected to the North Dakota House in 1998. He has served as the chairman of the Human Resources Division of the House Appropriations Committee.