North Dakota Legislative Review 1509
Articles,  Blog

North Dakota Legislative Review 1509

(dramatic music) – This is Legislative
Review on Prairie Public. I’m Dave Thompson. Thanks for joining us. Our guest this week is
State Representative Kim Koppelman of West Fargo. He’s a Republican, also chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Representative, thank
you for being here. – You’re welcome, Dave. Good to be back with you again. – You were here two years ago, and I wanted to
ask this question. What is the workload
like for your committee, and maybe overall,
compared to two years ago? – You know, Dave, I can’t
give you an exact count. I think overall the bills,
the last number I remember is somewhere around 850
bills in the session. And I believe it’s slightly, perhaps slightly less
than last session, but very close. In our committee,
I think we actually have a few fewer bills. But I would say that the
count is very, very similar. I believe we had about 70 bills
or a little more than that the first half of the
session last time. And we were very close to
that as well this time. – So at this stage
in the session your committee is almost
done with the hearings and probably kicking bills out, getting them on the
floor as soon as you can. – [Kim] Yes, in fact, we
finished our bill hearings in the House Judiciary
Committee this week. And we had a few Senate
concurrent resolutions, which the resolutions
sometimes follow the bills because the deadlines
are later and so on. And so we actually wrapped all of those hearings
up this week. And now we’re moving
into committee work, which is where we act
on all of those bills. Some of them are fairly
easy to deal with. And we vote them out
virtually immediately after we hear them. And others are bills that
require a little more work, and they hang around
for a little longer. But the fiscal note bills, the bills that carry
a financial impact that’s at all significant, need to be voted out by Monday. So we have I believe
all but three of those already have left the committee. And I think we
have two or three, must be three more that we
have to act on on Monday. – And the reason they’re getting
out of committee by Monday is because they have to
go the appropriations. – [Kim] That’s right,
they are re-referred. And then the
Appropriations Committee takes a look at the
dollars and cents. And I served in the
Appropriations Committee
for four years. So I’m somewhat familiar
with that process. But we have what we call policy committees
in the legislature, and we have the
Appropriations Committee. And it’s really two
parts of the whole. We enact policy we
think is a good idea or reject policy we
think is a bad idea. And then the
Appropriations Committee on the bills that we pass has to sit down and look at it and ask, can we afford it? – So I’m gonna
ask this question, since you were on
appropriations. – Sure. – Now you’re chairman
of a policy committee, which one’s more fun? – Policy, for me. And not everyone feels that way. There are some people that are just built for appropriations, and they flourish there. They love it. I started out in the
legislature as all, virtually all, I think I
can say, all legislators do. I don’t think I’ve ever seen
a freshman on appropriations. So we all start out
on policy committees. And I’ve been here 20 years now. When I first came, I was
on policy committees, in fact, the same two
committees I serve on today, and I really enjoyed it. I was Vice Chairman
of the Judiciary
Committee at that time. And the leader at
that time came to me and asked me to go
to appropriations. I politely declined. He sent two others
to ask me separately. And finally, I said, “Mr.
Lee, I’m team player. “You put me where you need me.” And so I served for, as
I said, two sessions, four years on appropriations and really did enjoy it. I think everyone should
have an opportunity to do that because you
understand the process, the budgets, and those things
a lot better once you have. But I could not wait
to get back to policy. And I’ve been privileged
to be there ever since. And I chaired the Constitutional
Revision Committee before chairing the
Judiciary Committee. And I’ve also chaired the Administrative
Rules Committee as well. – Well, since you talked
about 20 years too, I’ve been asking
everybody that I can see, you know, as we’re getting toward the latter
days of the session, every session seems to have
a theme or a direction. If you could put a theme or
direction on this session, what do you think it is? – Well, it’s very interesting. It’s hard to pick a theme. I think a theme might be
cautious optimism, perhaps. And when I say
that, I’m primarily talking about the fiscal front because, as you know, North
Dakota has been booming for the last several
years with the oil boom. By the way, and if I can
just say parenthetically, I think, and you may want
me to share the story, and I’d be happy to, but
I think public policy is one of the reasons that oil has done so well
in North Dakota. It’s not just the
research under the ground. And we can return to
that if you’d like. But as the oil boom has occurred and as the state has
benefited from it, I think now we’re at a point where we have to
take a deep breath and with the fiscal outlook say we can’t afford
to spend as much. As has often been said, the golden goose is
laying smaller eggs. And we need to
take a look at that and just be a little more
fiscally responsible. – But this really
wasn’t unexpected either because it is commodities. Commodities go up and down.
– [Kim] Absolutely. And when I say the
legislature was involved, you know, I had a very
interesting conversation a few years, or I guess it’s
about two years ago now, with a group of oil industry
executives and scientists, was asking them about fracking
and all that sort of thing. And one of the chief
engineer, in fact, from the largest companies,
largest players in the Bakken, was explaining it to me
the more detailed science of how fracking works. And then he stopped and
he asked me a question. And he said, “How long have
you been in the legislature? And I said, “Well, I
was elected in 1994.” He said, “Do you remember
the ’95 session?” I said, “Well, yeah, I remember. “It was my freshman session.” And he said, “Do you remember
what you did to the oil tax?” I said, “Yeah, I remember
we tweaked it a little bit.” He said, “Well, let me
tell you the story.” He said, “We had this idea
for how we could do this, “try this fracking
to extract oil “out of this rock,
this shale rock. “We didn’t know
if it would work. “It had not been
tried, really, anywhere “the way we wanted
to do it here.” Fracking had been around,
but not that formula, not that way of doing it. And he said, “We came to the
legislature and we asked you “if you would tweak your tax
structure just a little bit “to allow us to
afford to try this “because couldn’t afford
to the way your taxes were. “And you said yes.” And the next words
out of his mouth are forever
ingrained in my mind. He said, “If it were
not for the fact “that North Dakota has a
business friendly legislature, “there would be no
Bakken oil boom.” And that’s a fairly
profound statement. So I believe that good
public policy says this is a precious resource. It’s one that we are guardians
of to a certain degree with being the elected
representatives of the people. At the same time, we
need to do what we can to help business thrive
and to be responsible. And I think that’s
to a great extent, from the people
who are involved, what’s responsible
for the oil boom. Now, what you just said is true. It’s not unexpected because
we know things ebb and flow. We know a commodity
price goes up and down. And it’s important to note, as
our majority leader has said, that the sky is not falling. We are in good shape
in North Dakota. In fact, one of the things that I think is
rather interesting is there are two things that when we get into the
political realm particularly, that the minority
party has criticized the legislature for
in the last few years. One is the idea
of hoarding money. You have all these
pots of money, and you’re putting money away. Well, some are constitutional. We can’t touch them anyway. But to the extent that
we have been responsible with the people’s money and the tax dollars
we collect from oil and set some of those
aside for a rainy day, it’s precisely because
of what you talked about. These things ebb and flow. And this session would
be a lot different if we didn’t have some
of those resources to fall back on. So I think that’s
very responsible. The other thing is we need
to look at the oil tax. Now is probably not
the time to do it because of the
volatility of the market. But last session, the
Senate looked at an issue of possibly dealing with the
way we tax oil in North Dakota and what we call the triggers and whether that’s good
public policy or not. Now we’re in the throes of that, so we’re not gonna, you know,
try to do that midstream. But we should look at that and say what’s good
for the long term as this ebbs and flows. What’s best of the oil industry, for those who own
mineral rights, what’s best for the public and the state coffers
as go forward. – [Dave] And I haven’t
seen a study resolution specifically on that topic. But I have a feeling that
this is going to be part of your two-year
interim studies. – [Kim] I would
be, David, I’d be very surprised if it’s not. – Since we’re talking
about some of the things that have happened
with the oil boom, one of the things
that has happened is a little bit more
of a downside thing. That’s the whole issue
of human trafficking. – [Kim] Yes. – And legislators from
both sides of the aisle, both the House and Senate
and Republicans and Democrats have really attacked this issue. And you’re part of that because
your committee looks at it. You’re on some of the bills. – [Kim] Absolutely. – To deal with
human trafficking. Where are we at now
in terms of getting a more comprehensive policy? – Well, Dave, I’m glad
you brought that up because if you were to ask me what’s been the defining issue or one of the two
or three top issues that our committee
has dealt with in this session, I
would have to say that it is the human
trafficking issue. And we have a package
of bills right now in the Judiciary Committee, we’ve had all the hearings. We’ve acted on a couple of them. And we’ll be acting
on the others within the next week or two. And they’re all bills that deal with this tremendously
troubling issue. What we’re finding
in North Dakota is that human traffickers
around the country are targeting North Dakota. And you could argue that’s
because there’s a market there because of the oil boom. A lot of people from a lot
of places around the country are coming to North Dakota
to find jobs and so on. And that’s all good. But with it comes the
seedier side of life. And our concern is
if women are being, it’s not always women. I don’t mean to, you know,
base it only on gender, but I would say it’s fair to say the predominance of people, the predominant number of people that are caught up in
this are probably women. When they’re human trafficked, and we think first
of prostitution, but there’s other types
of human trafficking. You know, there’s issues
of labor human trafficking. Sometimes these people
are forced to get involved in other types of crimes,
like forgery and theft and various things
in order to obey, if you will, what their
traffickers are telling them. So we’ve got a number of bills that deal with a lot of
these ancillary issues. And I would be very surprised
if they don’t all pass, and probably even
surprised if they don’t all pass unanimously
out of our committee. – So in looking at this issue, what has been the most
eye opening for you and might be eye
opening for the people listening to this program? – Well, some of the
national news programs have, in recent months and
years, in the last year or two actually had some
stories on this issue. I think one of the issues that
maybe surprises some people is that many of the young
women who are caught up as particularly with
respect to prostitution and human trafficking
are victimized in ways that we had never dreamt before. And they are, you know,
they’re caught up in this because in some
cases it’s virtually kidnapping that’s involved, where people are just snatched and they’re taken into this
situation of servitude. And they’re forced
to do various things for the people who control them. And so I think the
approach that’s being taken is to say most
often these people, especially the minors that
are involved, are victims. They’re not criminals,
they’re victims. Now, would I say that every
prostitute is a victim? No, but I think we want to
focus on the vast majority, particularly those that
are minors that may be. And we want to go
after the traffickers, make sure we have good tools
in place to catch them, to charge them with the
crimes that they’ve committed, and to convict them. And then we want to
make sure that we get the young victims into
programs that’ll help them and get them back into
a productive life. – So you’ve got the
Safe Harbor law, too. – [Kim] We do, indeed. – [Dave] And is that
out of committee? – We voted that out of
committee yesterday. And it was, I know this is
being taped for later broadcast. We voted it out of
committee Wednesday. And that was a unanimous
vote out of committee. Different amendments
were considered. We adopted a couple, but nothing that changes it substantively. – I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask. There seemed to be one bump, at least in some quarters this what was described as
the gag part of a bill. Can you explain what that was? – Yeah, in the Senate, there
was an amendment adopted. And this is on the, probably
what most would consider the major human
trafficking bill. It’s the bill that the Uniform
Law Commission came up with. And many states
are considering it. But to understand, a
uniform law doesn’t mean that it’s the same
verbatim in every state. It just means that the core,
the principle of the law, the essence of what
it does is the same as it goes state to state. And as that bill came to
the North Dakota Senate, they attached an
amendment that said that if any entity that is helping these victims of
human trafficking receives money from the state, that they can’t use that money to counsel for or to
encourage abortion. That’s been public
policy in North Dakota for as long as I have
been aware of it. But there was a huge reaction that I think almost
bordered on hysteria that misunderstood and
said this was a gag order and you’re violating people’s
first amendment rights, free speech rights. That wasn’t the case at all. As our committee
examined the amendment, all it said was that
you could not use those dollars, taxpayer dollars, to tell someone or encourage
someone to go get an abortion. Now, we have other programs
in North Dakota that do that. We have an alternatives
to abortion program that says if you’re gonna
take money from the state, you can’t counsel for abortion, meaning as an entity,
as an organization, you make a decision. Either we’re gonna send
people off to get abortions or we’re gonna take tax dollars, but we’re not gonna do both. This bill, this amendment
was far narrower. All it said was you can
do whatever you wanna do outside of these parameters, but with respect to the money
that you take from the state, the money that you get that is out of the pockets of the
taxpayers of North Dakota, that money cannot be used
to refer for abortion. So what our
committee did with it is to adopt an
amendment that some feel clarifies that a
little more even. And we kept the bill,
kept that on the bill because we think it’s
consistent with public policy. – Maybe that’s what the uproar
seems to be dying down a bit. – [Kim] I think so. And members, I know
we have members on our Judiciary Committee, some are pro-life,
some are pro-choice, they all voted for
the bill unanimously. – And that’s a good
thing to point out, is that there
seems to be a real, and just the bigger issue, the whole human
trafficking issue, there seems to be a real
commitment from state, from the legislature,
from the executive branch and the judicial
branch to do something. – Absolutely, Dave. I think that’s absolutely true. We work, of course, closely with our Attorney
General’s office on these kinds of issues, law enforcement issues. And the people there
are 100% behind it. And we expect some good results as a result of what we’re doing at the state legislature
on that issue. – Since we talked
about the judiciary, did you get a chance
in your committee, or was that specifically just
for the budget committee, to look at the issues of
space for the Supreme Court and also the new judges? – We did look at it in general. We did not have the bills because they’re in the
budget, as you mentioned. And I know last session
we also added judges. I believe the status right now is that new judges
are being added in various places in the state. And I think they’re needed. I serve also on the
Indigent Defense Commission, which is the group
that provides attorneys when they can’t be afforded by people that are
charged with crimes. And in the western
part of our state that is a virtual epidemic. Just like human trafficking
is on the increase, so is all kinds of
criminal activities. In fact, one county
sheriff told me we don’t even charge
misdemeanors anymore. We don’t have time. We go after felons. And so law enforcement
is stretched. The courts are stretched. And I know the Indigent
Defense Commission’s budget is up because of that. The judicial branch’s
budget is up as well. With respect to the space issue, I have a personal
opinion on that. I think it’s a really
good thing in North Dakota that you can go to
our state capitol, you can walk down to
one end of the hall and visit with legislators. You can walk a little further
toward the middle of the hall and visit with people
in the executive branch, like the governor,
the attorney general, the secretary of
state and so on. You can walk a little
further down the hall and visit with the Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme
Court if you want to. There’s something about
our government being close and accessible
that’s really good. There was a proposal,
I believe, to move the Supreme Court
to another building on the campus of the capitol, which I understand
there’s space needs. Personally, I like them there. And I think we can
accommodate in other ways their needs for extra
space for their staff. – [Dave] It’s funny you
should mention that. If I can just take a brief
moment to tell a story. I believe that there was
an original plan to do it. It’s called the Liberty
Memorial Building where the state library is. And I believe the original plan was to move the Supreme
Court over there. But I think Chief Justice
Erickstad fought that when they built the judicial
wing of the building because he wanted everybody
in the same building. – [Kim] And, you know, I hate
to do this on television, having not spoken to
him privately yet. But this is the first
session in a long time that I haven’t darkened the
door of the Chief Justice and visited with our great
Chief Justice Jerry VandeWalle who’s a friend and has done a
tremendous job for our state. But I know he
advocated for that move in his state of the
judiciary address this year. Personally, and unless I get a
lot more compelling evidence, I don’t think that’s a good idea for precisely the reason
that Justice Erickstad gave, which is that, and
as I mentioned, which I think the proximity
is very important. Ironically, the Chief Justice
from South Dakota was here on the day the chief,
our North Dakota Chief gave his state of the
judiciary address. And I happened to visit
with him privately. And I said, you
know, a few years ago I chaired the Council
State Governments, which is all three branches of
government in all 50 states. And my initiative, my
focus, when doing that was on interbranch relations because it’s the only
entity that involves all three branches
of state government. I remember visiting. I went to the conference
of chief justices in other places and visited
with folks in the judiciary. I went to the Supreme
Court of Minnesota and visited with
the folks there. And they’re in a
separate building. They’re far apart. And I remember the chief
at that time telling me I never see legislators
because we’re a different, not only are we a different
branch of government, we’re physically separated. We’re in our own
realm, our own world. We just don’t interact. And I remember at
the time thinking how easy it is for
justices to come into our judiciary committee
and testify on a bill, for me to go down the hall and visit with them as a
legislator if I choose. There’s something
special about that. So on that day I visited with
the Chief from South Dakota, who was here to honor
our Chief Justice who’d won some
special recognition. And I asked him that question. I said, “What do you think? “Have you heard
there’s a proposal “to move the Supreme
Court to another building? He said, “I would do that.” He said in South
Dakota and North Dakota we’ve done it right. We have them close by. And that accessibility
is really important. – I think it also mentioned,
when you mentioned Minnesota, you know, that’s the one thing
that I think a lot of people find almost amusing, is
that they call legislators, ask to talk to their staff, well, legislators in North
Dakota with very few exceptions, well, you’re looking at it. – [Kim] That’s
right, that’s right. When I was chairing Council
of State Governments and people used to ask,
well, from larger states, “Well, what is
your office like?” And I would say, “Well, I have “a little desk on
the House floor. “I’ve got a center drawers. “And there’s two side drawers. “And one is mine and one
belongs to the guy next to me.” And they’d say, “No, no,
no, no, I mean your office.” I’d say, “That is my office.” “Well, what about
in your district?” Well, that’s my home or
my business, you know. “And what about your staff?” “Well, we have a common staff, “the Legislative Countil. “Those are the attorneys
and fiscal analysts “who’ll draft
legislation for us. “And we have some pages that’ll
go get a photocopy for you, “but other than that, and
that’s all common staff, “no individual staff.” We are really the people’s
house in North Dakota. And it’s a wonderful thing because we are
citizen legislators. And people from
around the country I think are amazed by it. People in our state
really appreciate it. – I would like to
get to an issue because you are one of the
people who had a tax bill. – [Kim] Yes, I did. – An income tax reduction bill. Yours was a flat tax bill. – [Kim] It was. – There’s apparently one
vehicle or maybe two out there where they’re talking
about $100 million in income tax relief
for individuals. And as the Senate amended it
is 26 million for corporate. – Okay. – And there are some
people who are saying that maybe the state can’t
afford this at this time. What are you hearing
and what’s your opinion? – Well, my opinion,
and I think the opinion of the majority in the House is that we need, that this
is the people’s money. This is not our money. So we should not
be talking about how much of our money we
can give to the people. We’re talking about how
much of the people’s money we’re gonna take or keep. And I think we always
look favorably, when at all possible,
at lowering taxes. And, you know, Dave,
it’s not a zero-sum game. History proves both on the state
level and the federal level that when taxes are lower,
you don’t take in less. You take in more. And so I’m not worried, as
long as we’re reasonable about how we do it, I’m not
worried about collecting less. What I did in my bill
is I actually asked the legislative council
and the tax department to prepare a vehicle for us where we could do a flat tax where there were nothing
but winners, no losers, because we have a modestly
graduated tax in North Dakota. Now, I was a co-sponsor
or the bill years ago that decoupled us
from the federal tax because I think
that’s important. We should make tax
policy in North Dakota, not allow Congress to mix tax policy for us
and state taxes. And so for a long time
I thought we should also go to a simple flat tax. And the bill that I proposed had no losers, only winners. Everybody, no matter where you
are in the income spectrum, would have received a tax break. And unfortunately it failed, I think mainly because
of the price tag. Again, I think that’s
a little flawed because when we do
this historically, we take in more, not less. But we have to look
at it statically. This is how many dollars, if
all other things were equal, that would not come
into the state. I still think
that’s a good idea. And most of the folks
even on the tax committee, both parties actually that
I talked with about it said we like your bill the best. We just think the
fiscal note might be a little high for this session. – So this might be something that we might see again in 2017? – [Kim] I think that
might be very possible. – Where do you think, you know, there’s been a lot of
talk about some austerity. And when we’re talking
about austerity, we’re not talking
about actually going into the meat of budgets and
cutting budgets at this point. – Right. – Where do you see it? Some things that have
been taken out of budgets are buildings because
there’s no real appetite to bond for anything right now since state is fairly debt free. Where do you think
it might end up? – Well, I think austerity or being very careful
with the taxpayers’ money is always a good thing. And I think it’s an extra
incentive to do that when the future is uncertain, when a major industry like oil, and for that matter agriculture. I spoke the other day to
one of our business leaders, runs the biggest mall
in maybe in the state, certainly the biggest mall
in Fargo, the other day. And I asked, how
things are going. And he said, “You know, we
never really benefited that much “from the oil boom in
our end of the state, “but we did benefit
from the ag boom.” And he said, “Now
we’re feeling that.” So agriculture is down. Oil is down. Energy is down. Those are all things
that affect North Dakota. Having said all of
that, I think, you know, there’s not a budget out there that I’ve seen that’s being cut. What sometimes happens
is the governor, as you know, comes out
with some requests, the governor’s budget, they
call it, early in the session. And then the legislature
has to look at that, has to look at what
we spent in the past, has to look at all the requests
and all the needs out there and make some decision. I think I’m reasonably confident in saying that virtually no
one, maybe no one at all, will receive less money
in terms of agencies and beneficiaries of
government programs. It’s only a question
of how much additional they’re gonna receive. – Now, the talk is
maybe trying to keep about $200 million as a cushion. I think in 1995 you
were talking about $5 million or
something like that. – [Kim] That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Things have changed. I mean, I remember my
first legislative session, one of my former
colleagues from the Senate wrote an article in
his hometown newspaper lamenting the first $1
billion state agency budget, and billion with a B. And that was the Department
of Human Services. I think our whole
state budget was about 3, 3 1/2 billion back then. So things have changed a lot. When we used to talk millions,
now we’re talking billions. I think an important, I think a cushion or a reserve is very important this session because of the
uncertainty of all those commodity prices
that we’ve discussed. – Do you think you’ll have to
come back in special session? I ask that because the
leadership is talking about reserving at least
five days in case. – Well, I think we should. And remember, we’ve not used, in the Constitution
we’re allowed 80 days for a
legislative session. We’ve not used the full 80
ever until the last session. So we always try
to save some time. My first session,
it was 67 days. So sometimes we’ve saved a lot. I think it’s very important
to try to reserve some days. The legislature in North Dakota can call itself into
special session. The Governor can also call
us into special session. But I think with the uncertainty
of the times we’e living in that’s a possibility. I think we need to
do everything we can to make it a slimmer
possibility to do our work well so that every eventuality
we can guess about is dealt with and we
have a responsible budget and responsible
program as we leave. If things change to the extent
we need to readjust that, we can come back. – I need a fairly short
answer on this one – [Kim] Sure. – Because we’re
getting close to time. – [Kim] Yes. – But this is a
complicated subject. – [Kim] It is. – It could probably
take a whole half hour. – [Kim] Yeah. – The Legacy Fund is
out there in 2017. The legislature can
start spending it. – Yes.
– If some parameters are met. Is it a possibility the
Legacy Fund is another, like, rainy fund that’s out
there in case you need it? – Well, I think it’s there. As it was adopted, it takes
a 2/3 vote of the legislature ever to get at the
principal legislative fund, at the Legacy Fund, rather. In an emergency, I
think that could occur. I think the intent,
though, is to allow as the measure provides, that the interest or the
proceeds from that fund flow into the general
fund and are used but the principal stays. – So it is a possibility. – [Kim] It is. – [Dave] All right,
well, thank you very much – [Kim] Thank you.
– For taking the time. – [Kim] It’s been a pleasure. – Our guest today on
Legislative Review, Representative Kim
Koppelman of West Fargo. He’s a Republican. He chairs the House
Judiciary Committee. For Prairie Public,
I’m Dave Thompson. (dramatic music)

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