Public policy updates from both states
Public policy updates from both states
(Editor's note: Legislative updates are current as of March 29, but may have since changed. We are also since relieved to hear new predictions from the NWS that lower the risk of this year's flood.)
Check out the latest in public policy news, straight from our public affairs and advocacy coordinator, with updates in legislation, issues and bills we're watching in both states, as well as an updated on the FM Diversion.
With the 66th Legislative Assembly fully underway and crossover of bills in the books, there are various updates in regard to crucial legislation. Some of the legislation we have been monitoring or advocating for has made its way through the legislative process and already been signed by Governor Burgum. Other pieces are still in process, and still yet others have died in the process. Below are a few of the important issues we have been monitoring. To hear a full recap of the legislative session, as well as understand how new key legislation will affect you, join us for our May Eggs & Issues event.
HB 1066: Prairie Dog Bill
This bill, a crucial infrastructure funding bill for non-oil producing counties, cities and townships utilizing oil production tax was widely supported. The bill made its way through both chambers without great concern, and was signed by the Governor on March 20.
HB 1097: Repealing Blue Laws
This legislation, which has been brought up for numerous sessions, pertains to the repeal of the current Sunday retail closing laws. This would give businesses the option to be open Sunday mornings. After a close vote in the House, the bill passed with an even smaller margin in the Senate. At the time of print, the legislation had been signed by the President of the Senate but had not yet been signed by the Speaker of the House or gone to the desk of the Governor.
SB 2020: FM Diversion Project Funding
Senate Bill 2020 is the state water commission funding bill, which includes the critical funds needed for the FM Diversion Project. The Senate passed the bill 44-1, with language designating an additional $332,500,000 for the flood control project to be made available in equal installments over the next five bienniums. Though this is progress in the right direction, the funding falls short of the request needed to move the project forward. As economic stability is crucial for economic success, permanent flood protection remains one of The Chamber’s top priorities. There is still much work to be done on the House side, so we continue to advocate for the funding necessary in order to most efficiently move the project forward and urge your support of the project.
SCR 4016: Higher Education
This concurrent resolution, rising after the death of House Bill 1500, a bill relating to the governance structure of North Dakota’s higher education system, makes less bold changes in the overall structure. The proposed changes would amend the constitution to increase membership on the state board of higher education from eight to 15 members. Their term would also increase from four to six years. The selection committee of these members would also be amended to remove the chief justice of the supreme court and instead include the attorney general. The bill included various other changes relating to meeting requirements and membership of the state board of higher education. This resolution has been passed by the Senate 29-14 and is currently making its way through the Judiciary Committee in the House. At the time of print, the committee had not taken action on the legislation.
HB 1019: Career Academy Funding
This bill, relating to career and technical education funding, came out of the House without any funding for state matching funds for career academies. Governor Burgum’s recommendation included $30 million set aside for these matching funds. The Senate Appropriations committee is currently considering this bill and has the opportunity to restore the funding back to the Governor’s recommendation level. The inclusion of these funds would contribute to a Cass County Career Workforce Academy. This academy would deliver training and education responsive to changing employer and student needs. In turn, it would expand and enhance our region’s ability to attract, retain and grow businesses and develop opportunities for student success in the workforce.
Other legislation we are monitoring include SB 2012, relating to Medicaid Expansion, SB 2297, a bonding bill that is crucial in the advancement of two building projects at NDSU, SB 2306, a bill relating to occupational licensure of military members and spouses, SB 2039, a bill to create a skilled workforce student loan repayment program, and several others.
Governor Walz proposed a 70% increase in Minnesota’s gas tax. This would increase the current tax from 28.6 to 48.6 cents per gallon. For comparison, North Dakota has a gas tax of 24 cents per gallon. An increase such as this could potentially have a negative effect on our border cities who work hard to compete with North Dakota on various fronts. Though there is a provision in current MN law that allows retailers within 7.5 miles of the border to file for credit, many don’t know about this, and it is inconvenient to file. In addition, this would cost MN service/fueling stations more in credit card fees. Plus, the 7.5 mile distance exemption only pushes the border city issue down the road a little further, still affecting our greater region. This provides no protection for cities just outside of the 7.5 mile area. Governor Walz also proposed other business tax increases, all of which could impact the economic success of Moorhead and other Minnesota bordering cities in our region.
The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering proposals that would mandate up to 24 weeks of paid leave. This amounts to 44% of work days in a year. This mandate would apply to all private-sector employees. One of the proposals, HF 5/SF 1060, would allow for 12 weeks parental and family leave plus 12 weeks medical leave. Another bill, HF 11/SF 1597, is modeled after a Minneapolis ordinance. It would require for a statewide mandate of employers offering at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. There are currently no exemptions for small businesses, however there are provisions in regard to collective bargaining agreements and the construction industry. If passed, these would make Minnesota the only sate in the nation with such expansive and expensive mandates in regard to eligibility, qualifying events, benefits and employer obligation.
FM Diversion Project Update
Though it has been 10 years since the devastating flood of 2009, impacts and memories of the destructive flood can still be felt today. As we face the concern of another flood in our region this spring, we recognize it may only be a matter of time until we face another catastrophic flood. This is why it is crucial to both the residential and business community for our region to implement permanent flood protection. The Fargo Moorhead Diversion Project, a solution of permanent flood protection, has recently had substantial progress in moving the project forward, however there is still work left to do before we can ensure necessary protection of our region.
The project provides 100-year protection for 235,000+ people and makes fighting a 500-year flood event possible. It will protect residents and businesses in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo, Harwood, Horace and surrounding communities. It will safeguard $20 billion in property, 95,000 households and an estimated 140,000 jobs. The Chamber recognizes the need for permanent flood protection as a major flood of the usually peaceful Red River of the North can cause destruction of our community and with it our economic stability and growth. Local member companies employ 130,000 people from Cass and Clay counties, and there are more than 25,000 people living outside of these two counties employed by companies here. All 140 North Dakota and Minnesota counties have employees who work for companies based out of Fargo-Moorhead. We are truly an economic engine and hub for surrounding cities across both North Dakota and Minnesota. These statistics alone demonstrate the magnitude of impact that a destructive flood has on our community and greater region.
As for the financials, local funding makes up more than 50% of the non-federal share. Voters have approved sales tax extensions until 2084. Locally this amounts to $1,044 million committed. The total ask from the state of North Dakota is $870 million, with $370.5 million appropriated to date. In Minnesota, the ask is $86 million with $4 million appropriated to date. Federally, the full $750 million that was requested has been committed. At the time of print, the outstanding asks are currently under consideration. The Chamber is advocating to secure the remaining necessary funds to move the project forward, and we urge you to contact your legislators echoing the importance of the FM Diversion Project in order to protect our region’s residential and business communities.