North Dakota Legislative Review 1906
Articles,  Blog

North Dakota Legislative Review 1906

– [Announcer] Welcome
to a weekly review of North Dakota’s
Legislative News. Now, here’s your
host, Dave Thompson with North Dakota
Legislative Review. – And this is North
Dakota Legislative Review. I’m Dave Thompson. Thanks for joining us. The story about higher
education changes took an interesting
turn this week. As you can recall, probably, a task force looking
at governance recommend three separate
boards of higher education. One for UND, one for NDSU, and one for the rest
of the colleges. It became a two-board proposal. One for the two
research universities and the other for the
rest of the institutions. However, the House killed that. Now, we have another proposal. The next proposal, which is now
in the Senate, would create, keep one board, that is, and would expand the membership from 8 members to 11 members. And the House and
Senate committees are working their way
through their ethics bills. There are special committees
that have been appointed. And one committee
has given an okay, their Senate’s committee
has given an okay to its ethics bill. House is still working on that. Floor votes are expected
probably early next week. That’s something to watch. And also, Crossover
is coming up. Crossover’s the time when
the bills from one session are supposed to be acted on or given over to
the other House. Well, the Senate is planning
to recess on Wednesday. Crossover date is Friday. The House is gonna be
working some long days and plans to recess on Thursday. And members of the House
are still playing catch up after seeing a
large spike in bills this legislative session. This week, the House began
to expand its floor session and it looks like
those floor sessions will continue to get longer. Political correspondent,
Chad Mira, caught up with the
assistant majority leader and talked about the workload. – Joining us now is Representative Scott Louser
from Minot representative. Thanks for being here today. – Absolutely. – You have quite a bit
of work ahead of you this legislative session. Tell us how much you have on
the table on the House side. – Well, we started with a
little over 100 bills more than last session, and
probably another 20 resolutions more than last session. So that would put us around
575 bills and resolutions to hear in less than two months to vote on, both in committee
and out on the floor. We’re about 110 bills behind this pace last session. – Yeah, quite a big increase from what we saw just
a couple of years ago. How are you handling
that extra workload? – Well, we’re gonna have
an adjusted schedule over the next couple
days and into next week leading into crossover
so we’ll be on the floor Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
from 8:00 to 5:00 next week. We’re probably gonna come in in the morning at 7:30 on Friday and we might end up being in a little bit Thursday
night as well. – And we’ve already seen
this week’s session start to get a little bit longer. When we start talking about
expanding the floor sessions for that many hours, is
there any type of fatigue that any concerns that
lawmakers are facing? – Well, we go into that if we’re gonna have a
three or four-hour session then we know we’re
gonna take a break maybe 10 or 15 minute break. Fatigue shouldn’t set in
because the bills that come in at the end of, before
crossover in the end of session are usually the ones that
have a lot of debate, so those have a lot of emotion, a lot of appropriations bills, so it gets our attention. We’re able to get through it. – And there really is
no wiggle room here. When crossover hits, you
guys have to be done, right? – Right, all the bills
have to be outta committee. We do have the ethics bill
that we extended that deadline because that has
an appropriation. But we do have deadlines now. Everything that had an amendment
coming out of committee is immediately gonna
go to the floor which what we call
the 11th order and potentially up for a
debate right on that same day. – Okay, Representative Scott
Louser, thanks for your time. – Absolutely, thank you. – We are now joined by State
Senator, Larry Robinson. He’s from Valley
City and a democrat. And a member of
Senate Appropriations. Senator, thank you for being here.
– Good to be here. – Let me just ask you, one thing that we talked about in the beginning of the
segment is this whole idea about changing the board
of higher education. The two-board bill is
dead basically, for now, and the Senate is considering
expanding the membership on the board of
higher education. Since you work for
higher education, where do you come down on that? – Well, it’s been an
interesting discussion over the course of the iterum. You’re aware of the
governor’s task force that initiated this review and earlier this week
when the House elected to not support that package discussions continued
on the Senate side. And what some folks on the
Senate side are looking at is expanding the membership. I work very closely, obviously, I work at Valley City
State University. I’ve been there a long time and I can tell you the workload of the state board of higher
education is significant. We’ve had a great board. They spend an ordinate
amount of time working with the
various institutions, they have regular meetings. And keep in mind that
during the interim between their regular meetings, they’re busy with
audit committees, presidential
searches, and so on. So on the Senate side the
discussion now has turned to increasing the number
of members on that board. And I think it makes sense from
the standpoint of workload. These folks are citizens. They have families. They have jobs. And you put this all together, we’re asking a lot
of these people. I do believe that there’ll be
movement in that direction now In fact, just the last couple
days there’s been a lot of discussion in that area. And I think it’s something we have to look at
pretty seriously. The university system is huge, 40-some-thousand
students, 11 institutions. The responsibilities for
the board are significant. – I know that the current board
and the chancelor’s talking about multi-subcommittees
of the board to look at the two-year schools,
maybe the four-year schools and the research universities. Something that you like?
– Well, that’s something that’s gonna be flushed out and I think there’s
some merit to that. Obviously we haven’t
been in a situationcy of final draft of what
they’re talking about. But it’s gonna be interesting. But I do think that we do
need to look at some changes. And I for one believe
that increasing the size of the board will certainly be
a step in the right direction – Now, since we’re talking
about higher education, it’s a little bit of a… There’s some nexus there. But the Senate
Appropriations Committee passed a bonding bill and that’s the first
time for a long time. There’s some buildings
and of course, there’s one building at
Valley City State University that apparently’s on the
wrong side of the dyke and could get flooded. And in talking to
Senator Holmberg, he said that building needs to be
built one way or the other. Is bonding really an option? – Well, we think it is given the restraints
on the seat budget things are still
tight financially. Bonding can make sense. Obviously, we’re not
gonna go overboard with our bonding efforts. But in the case of the
building at Valley City State, that particular
package and project was approved four years ago. And it was approved subject to the general fund
ending balance. And if I recall, that
general fund didn’t end up with a balance sufficient
to tricker the construction of that building. Last session, there
was no talk, obviously, because of the budget of
any capital improvements. So the cost of these
facilities is not going up. In the case of the
building at Valley City, we would be replacing
the building that is right on the
edge of the river. And the building’s on the
wrong side of the dyke. And we haven’t had a
flood for a few years, but I think it’s safe to
assume that sooner or later we’re gonna have a flood. And that would put us at a very challenging
situation on the campus. The building that we would
replace is our music building. At North Dakota
State University, they have a dire
need for Dunbar Hall, it’s a chemistry facility, with some serious challenges,
safety challenges, and so on. That’s a 50-some
million dollar project. The one at Valley City
is 32 million dollars. So it’ll be interesting
to see what happens as we move into the second
half of the session. The bonding bill did get
strong, strong approval on the Senate. I believe it was
a unanimous vote with one senator absent. – I think that’s right. Since we’re talking
about finances, that leads me into another thing and that’s the legacy fund and some of the demands
for the basically, earnings of the legacy fund. The governor wanted
to put $50 million toward a Theodore
Roosevelt library. There was a proposal
to move some people out of the New England
prison to Bismark to Bismark prison to Jamestown. And it’s my perception, and tell me if I’m
right or wrong, that there’s a little
bit of tough sled for both of those proposals. – Well, it’s challenging because
change is always difficult and our state
probably even more so. As I understand, the House
has not reached consensus on what they wanna do with
the New England facility. There are a number of issues
moving the female residents to south side of Bismark and some of our
men to New England. There’s healthcare issues. There’s appointment issues. There’s housing issues. There’s a lot of issues
that surface immediately. I think the good thing is
they’re ongoing discussion. We’re looking at some options. The corrections
budget’s gonna come over to the Senate side second half. We’re just wrapping up
the Human Services bill and that impacts the
Jamestown facility. So that discussion’s
going to continue and I would suggest there won’t be a
decision reached on that until the wee hours of this
2019 legislative session. – Probably that and also the Theodore Roosevelt
Library which– – Exactly, a lot of
discussion on that. And I think that issue is alive. It’s just a big piece and there’s a lot of eyes
on the legacy fund earnings. And that’ll flush out as we get into the second
half of the session. And I’ve been told, I’ve
been around a few years, and you have to be a bit more
serious in the second half because one, you’re
running out of time. And two, we gotta start
making some decisions. The puzzle has to
start coming together. And I think we’ve had a
good, productive first half at both the House
and the Senate. We’ll wrap up and go
into crossover next week. And then we come back and
we’re gonna have to start putting that budget together and the various pieces
of the puzzle, hopefully, will come together in
the next number of weeks. – And then when you come back, there’s gonna be the
new revenue forecast, which will tell a
lot of the story. – Exactly, we’re all waiting
to see that in early March and to see what that tells us
regarding the on-going revenue for the state of North Dakota. We’ve had a flat-egg
commodity picture out there in terms of our
farmers and ranchers, great crops and so one, but
prices have not been there. Thank goodness for the
record crops in many areas. And certainly, the challenge in the western part of the state with oil prices being a bit
softer than we had hoped. – Yeah, it isn’t quite as bad
as it was when you came in ’17 where there had been
allocations already, allotments, and then you had to do
some cuts of a budget which hadn’t happened
for a little while. – You’re exactly right. In ’17 it was a
pretty dire situation. And we had budget
cuts across the board and many agencies,
IRA, for example, I believe, pushing 20%. The Department of Commerce
received a significant cut. And we were fortunate that
we had some reserve funds, rainy day fund, the
sit fund, and so on that helped us get through that really tough
two-year period. So things are better, but
we’re not outta the woods. The farm economy and the
challenge with commodity prices not only in the farm
side of things and ranch but the energy, you
put the two together, and I think all of us are a
little concerned, very concerned and just really waiting to
see what happens in March. – Since you brought that
up, one of the other things that it’s a new proposal, and
that’s the Prairie Dog bill that Senator Wardner has been
trying to shepard through and also Representative
Nathy on the House side. Not exactly sure
where it’s going. There seems to be an
awful lot of support at least in concept, but are there pitfalls
possible with that one? – Well, I’m pretty optimistic. That bill is still in the House. I think it’s gonna
come outta the House, it has to, in the next few days. I know Senator Wardner
and Representative Nathy put in an ordinate amount
of work in that bill over the course of the summer. I signed on as a co-sponsor because we have a dire need
in every corner of the state to address infrastructure needs. Our DOT budget which
is in the House is gonna come to the Senate. As you know it’s tight. There’s not an appetite
for gas tax increases. We haven’t had a gas tax
increase for a number of years. But costs keep going up and
we’re getting a lot of traffic. Even in our egg sector, the
number of semis on farms, is just really exploded over
the last number of years. And our school buses
drive on those roads and all of us in a rural
state, an agricultural state, our system of transportation
is absolutely critical to our well-being and
our quality of life. So I believe that bill’s
gonna find its way and I think it’s gonna
receive broad-base support. It’s not a cure all, but
it’s gonna go a long ways to helping with needy projects throughout the state
of North Dakota. – Well, this gives you an idea about how many subjects
you have to deal with in a short 80-day session ’cause I really
did wanna ask you about IT, information
technology. You were on interim committees
that did some study. There’s this whole proposal
for consolidation of IT. And I’m hearing that again, some resisted the
change perhaps. – It’s my understanding that
the IT unification proposal has not fared well in the House. That bill now will
come to the Senate. The bottom line, whether
we like it or not, is a driving factor
in our lives today. Literally, everything we
do is tied into technoloy in one way or another. We’re also challenged trying
to build in efficiencies and streamline cost control. We have some areas where
we had some increase costs. The IT director, Shawn
Riley, and his staff I think are doing a great job
analyzing in the big picture and trying to identify ways
that we can contain costs but also invest
in cyber security. That’s been a big issue. We are going through
hacks every minute. Thousands and thousands
and thousands, I think it’s over the
course of the year we’re looking at millions. And our private records, our
financial records, and so on we got to protect them. We have a
responsibility to do so. And so there’ll be a number
of FTEs hired in that area and the thought is we’re gonna reshuffle,
reassign, retrain, repurpose and in the process
try to come through with a stronger, more
efficient, more responsive information
technology department. That I think they’ve been
doing a great job already but the demands are such
that we can’t sit still. We gotta constantly move forward and not let folks run over us. – So you are onboard
with consolidation? – Yes, I am. And I think the Senate,
we’re passing bills out with the consolidation
or unification,
whatever you call it in all of the bills. – Yeah, I think some people
call it consolidation, some people call it unification. There has been some pushback
from a couple of state agencies but I don’t know if it’s
really serious at this point. – Well, I would agree. And I think at
the end of the day I think we’re gonna realize that we have to move
in this direction. And again, it’s change, and
change is tough to come by. But in my opinion, it’s
the right thing to do. – All right, early on, the
bar was set in the Senate about not only raises, but also how budgets
are gonna be handled. 2% the first year
of the biennium, 3% of the second
year of the biennium. That includes nursing
homes and a lot of things, but just on the two
and three concept, how are you dealing with that? – Well, we enter this
session in January knowing full well that many of
our providers were struggling and our nursing homes… I don’t wanna
stereotype all of them, but as an industry,
they’re very challenged. Many of them are
operating in red ink. The nursing home in my community
is a beautiful facility and a lot of pride
in that facility, but the have close to
40 vacancies in staff. The ability to retain
and recruit quality staff is really an issue. Financially, the overhead, the
dollars haven’t been there. We haven’t done much for
these folks two years ago, so the issue is
somewhat compounded. They have asked for
a three and a three. We call them inflaters. They cover overhead, salary,
infringe, and other costs. The governor’s budget
was at one and one. The Senate at this
point of time, we are in agreement to
be at two and three. I believe the House
is at two and two. That’s gonna be an
issue that again, will probably be addressed
late in the session. I would hope that can find a
way to get to three and three. That’s really in my opinion,
the minimum that they need to be able to get by and
maybe a little catch up. But a test of any generation is, it really boils down to how we
care for our most vulnerable, our seniors, our children,
our veterans, etc. And we gotta step to the plate and get the job
done in that area. – I know that Senator
Wardner, as a… What he called a Stop Gap Bill, introduced a provider tax. That did fail, but that’s
something that still could be in the back pocket. – Well, and Senator
Wardner did… Now it’s on the floor that
we’ll be making every effort as we get into the second part
of the legislative session to identify that other 1%. And we have a great
relationship with the senator. And again, there’s so many
pieces to this puzzle. And at the end of the day,
they all have to fit together. And just because we’re
at two and three now, in no way suggests that’s
where we’re gonna end up come late April. – And of course, two
and three also means state employee raises. – Exactly and we’ve had
significant turnover, early retirements, the
last two years in the area, state employee workforce. I know in higher education alone we’ve reduced the FTE counts by about 700. And our employees, we’ve got a great state
employee workforce. They too have gone
without increases. And we can’t be a
training grounds. We’ve gotta keep up
with the private sector to the extent we can. And I think again, the two and three that we have, if we have any way possible to get to three and
three is important. I think it’s also
important to note that we have agreed… It’s my understanding,
the House and the Senate are on the same page to continue the
healthcare package. And it’s interesting to note, that just to continue
that $28 a month, participation that the
governor had proposed is another $12 million. So we’re talking about
significant dollars. But we’re talking
also about supporting our state employee workforce. And that’s gotta
be a high priority. And I would hope that
we’re able to get there prior to the end of the session. Again, time is of essence,
but we’ll work on this up to the closing
hours of the session. And that’s one of those
issues that will be finalized sometime in the
last week or two. – We only have
like a minute left so I have to ask this question. Are we facing a time where you’re going to
have to meet annually? – Well, there was a proposal. Senator Brad Beckett from Wilson who’s on our appropriations
committee, great guy, had proposed that
we look at that and look at that seriously. He put in an ordinate amount
of work into that bill. And the concept that he
provided was a very short, three or four day, kind of
budget adjustment session on even numbered years. I supported it. It was not approved
by the Senate. But I think increasingly, when we look at the extreme
situation we’ve been. A couple of years ago
we had sufficient funds. In fact, some would
say excess funds. And then two years
ago, we went way back and we had significant
reductions. I don’t know of any
business the size of the state of North Dakota where you’re looking
at a budget the size of the State of North
Dakota that operates when the board of directors
meet every other year. So I think there’s merit to it. Again, it’s a departure. I know several years ago, and I’ve been in the
Senate for about 30 years, former Senator Riley Redland,
championed that cause session after session
after session. And he was a believer
in the concept that we should meet and have
that budget adjustment session. I don’t think it’s
gonna happen this year, but I think it’ll
eventually be here. – Eventually it will. Senator, thank you
for being here. – Thank you. It’s good to be here.
– Senator Larry Robinson from Valley City
– Thank you very much. – Thank you. The number who have applied
for medical marijuana cards is not anywhere near the number originally expected
at this point. The program is designed
to pay for itself through various fees
collected by the state. But if the patient
numbers don’t pick up, that revenue could take a hit. – [Commentator] Medical
marijuana isn’t too far off. – We’ve currently harvested
three different times. – [Commentator] And
it’s a big harvest for Pure Dakota,
C.O.O, Casey Neuman. – We currently are
growing a thousand plants. – [Commentator]
We’re not allowed inside the
manufacturing facility, but you can imagine
what it takes. – You probably have around
125 lights in one room. They’re 315 watts a piece. They’re a full-spectrum light. So it does get awful close
to mirroring the sun. – [Commentator] Pure Dakota
has a thousand plants, but right now, they’re
only 110 patients and another 100 applicants
for the whole state. – It’s been very
difficult the identify what the true qualifying
patient population number will be in North Dakota. – [Commentator] So difficult, the state has
drastically lowered its patient projections. When the law was first
passed two years ago, the state estimated we
would have 3,800 patients and 1,900 designated
caregivers in 2019. The Department of Health
presented lawmakers with new projections last month. The numbers are
down significantly. 1,800 fewer patients and
1,559 fewer caregivers. Check out this graph. This is
how the Department of Health breaks down its revenue sources for the medical
marijuana program. This blue piece of the
pie, the largest piece, these are fees just from
dispeseries and manufacturers, 67%, it’s the largest chunk. But the second biggest
piece, this gray area here, these are fees just
from patients and
designated caregivers. That’s 24% of the
projected revenue. Obviously a very important part to funding the state’s
medical marijuana program. – A lower than expected
qualifying patient number may have an impact on the
ability for the program to pay for itself. And we are prepared for that. We would have some
carryover dollars that may be available. – [Commentator] To adjust
for the lower patient count, the state has lowered its
revenue projections by 29%. The Grand Forks Dispensary
might be the first one to open. I talked CEO, Sara Gullickson
about the patient numbers. – [Sara] We’re not looking to
service hundreds of patients the first day of opening. if the program’s a little
bit slower to grow. And that obviously feeds
right into our staffing model and to make sure that
we don’t overstaff. – [Commentator] It’s
not necessarily a shock to those involved
in the industry. After all, even with an ID, you can’t get medical
marijuana right now ’cause no dispensary has opened. – The data that’s been
presented in the last five years is showing that normally
the numbers are very similar to where North Dakota’s at now until the first
dispensary’s open. – [Commentator] While said
another part of the problem is getting healthcare
providers on board. – The healthcare
provider has to complete a written certification form as part of the
patient application. – [Commentator] Two House
bills being considered this legislative session
which changed the wording on those forms in
hopes of making doctors more comfortable with it. Other bills would add
qualifying conditions like autism, migraines,
and eating disorders. These bills could boost
patient count in the long term In the short term,
Gullickson is looking forward to opening day. – [Sara] Our goal the
first day that we open, if we service five
patients, that’s great. – [Commentator] She says
that could be in April. – And our political
correspondent, Chad
Mira, joins us. Chad, you’ve been
talking to legislators. Do they ever tell you that
maybe part of the reason why the numbers haven’t
been so robust is because it’s taken
awhile to roll it out? – Well, that’s definitely a
large piece of the puzzle. Like I mentioned in
that story there, they’re not necessarily
surprised by this. And from what we’ve
seen in other states, once dispensaries start to open, historically, states see a
bit of a spike in enrollment. So they’re not too concerned yet about where the numbers
are the way they are. They do have goals for
where they wanna be by the end of the year. But it certainly has been a
process rolling out the program and I think they’re
although just excited to finally be getting
some dispensaries opening here in a couple months. – Do you think these
bills that are introduced to kind of broaden who can
access medical marijuana, do you think they
have some legs? – Well, there is some
support for these. They’ve gotten some due
passes out of committee. But something important
to keep in mind that lawmakers are telling me is because this is a bill that
started as initiated measure, if there’re gonna be
any serious changes to the language in these bills, they need a two-thirds vote. So they need pretty
broad supports. And medical marijuana, although growing in
popularity across the country, there’s still people, it’s
still hot bun an issue. There are still people
that are convinced of the benefits of it and might still vote against
some of these amendments. – And that might be one issue you’re gonna be
following for awhile. – Absolutely, we’ll be
keeping an eye on it for a long time, I’m sure.
– Thanks, Chad. You have been watching and
listening to Legislative Review. I’m Dave Thompson,
thanks for joining us.

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