Posted 4/17/19 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
As the North Dakota Legislature heads into its final couple of weeks and before they wrap up the 66th Legislative Session, I had the opportunity to spend last Thursday at the state’s capital representing the McKenzie County Farmer as the “Newspaper of Day.” Needless to say, it was a very enlightening trip as I had the opportunity to visit with the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota’s Attorney General, as well as our District 39 legislators - Senator Dale Patten and Representatives Keith Kempenich and Denton Zubke.
My observation, which was confirmed by everyone that I had a chance to visit with, was that this legislative session can’t get over soon enough. Everyone seems to be tired of the struggles that they are facing in trying to find the $838,451,137 that they need to balance their budget. The only choice that they have to reach a balanced budget is to reduce spending or find additional tax dollars, which could mean a raid on the Legacy Fund.
As the struggle to cut budgets continues, it is fortunate for McKenzie County and Watford City, that the Prairie Dog bill, which secured our Gross Production Tax revenues, already has been signed by the governor.
But there are still several bills that the Legislature is going to have to deal with that will have a significant impact on all the state’s residents, as well as those in McKenzie County.
Most notably for mineral owners in McKenzie County is SB2344, a bill clarifying the use of “pore space” and compensation for landowners. This highly contentious bill has been amended several times in a conference committee and needs to be passed by both Houses. And according to the state’s attorney general, anything that the Legislature passes will no doubt be challenged in the court system.
In addition, for supporters of the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City, there was some good news and bad news. The good news, according to Rich Wardner, Senate Majority Leader, is that something will happen this session on the passage of the Corridor of Commerce bill, which was introduced by our District 39 legislators. The bad news is that right now, all of the funding has been stripped from the bill.
Other bills that are still tied up in conference committees and awaiting final approval are funding for K-12 schools, and the revamping of the state’s Social Services offices across the state.
As I walked through those hallowed halls early Thursday morning, it was interesting to watch the leadership of both parties meeting and discussing how they could come to an agreement on how best to meet the needs of the citizens of the state. While the Republican party enjoys a super majority in both Houses of the North Dakota Legislature, it was equally apparent that the House and the Senate had vastly different opinions on specific bills and how they should be funded.
The legislative process is not an easy one. But it is the best one that we have and the one that ultimately serves the people of North Dakota the best.
But after a day at the capitol, it reminds me of a quote that was attributed to Otto von Bismarck - “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”