The first eight weeks are done. After 38 days the House has heard over 500 Bills. After voting on the Floor, 350 remain and have been sent to the Senate for further consideration. Beginning next Wednesday we will begin hearings on about 300 Bills sent over from the Senate. In mid-April the third part of the process will begin when combined House and Senate Conference Committees work out any differences in remaining legislation.
Senate bills now in the House Appropriations Committee will surely keep us busy making further adjustments. Two of the larger areas we will be working with on the Human Services sub-committee will be the Department of Corrections and the Health Department. In addition, the full committee will be working through the Higher Education budget which will surely be interesting considering all the recent news regarding the Chancellor. Bottom line, we have an excellent system of colleges and must not let personality conflicts or those who may see an opening to further an anti-higher Ed agenda use this as an opening to do damage to a good thing. Opposing sides need to sit down and focus on the big picture.
One of the things we heard after the June primary when the people of ND defeated a proposal to eliminate property tax was that it went too far. The message we received is that we DO need to lower property tax to put it more in line with the other sources of income for the state. HB1319 continues and increases the rebate of the school property tax by an additional 40 mills, cutting the base local levy to 70 mills. In HB1198 an additional rebate of 8.5% (20 mills) deals with all classifications of property tax. The flip side is that, because of the strong economy and low interest rates, valuations are rising, removing some of the benefit.
The oil industry is being treated very well with legislation moving through both the Senate and House. We passed a billion dollar bill to fund and repair the damage caused by the rapid development in the West, then turned around and cut the available money by lowering the oil extraction tax by 30% from 6.5% to 4/5%. While the majority can make a case for lowering the tax at some point, I believe that this is not the time. There are many issues that could change the future of oil in ND and the oil companies, with the current price, are making huge profits with the tax at the present level. Our state has a lot of unmet needs that are unique to our rural nature .We could look at other types of tax relief, such as sales tax exemptions, or a broadened homestead credit which keep the benefit at home. Funding for other actions, such as helping our growing workforce of young families deal with the shortage in child care, could have been supported with this revenue which will now leave the state to benefit others.
It was good to see the ND Supreme Court ruling to allow unemployment benefits to the locked out Crystal workers from Drayton and Hillsboro. That puts them in the same position as those from the other Minnesota and Iowa plants. This issue has not only hurt many families financially, but also has created divisions among friends and neighbors that will be long lasting. I hope that in time, things will get better.
If you are planning a visit to the Legislature, let us know in advance so we can set up a time to visit. Our schedule is usually full, so planning ahead is important.
Rep. Rick Holman, 701.238.1124, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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