ND Legislature weekly update from NDBA Counsel Jack McDonald

04-01-2019 | NDBA

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, North Dakota's 66th Legislative Assembly has entered into the twilight of its year(s). Monday is the 57th of 80 allowable legislative days. Committee hearings are over and now there will only be conference committees to iron out the differences between the House and Senate over various bills. Attached is the Master List for the media-related bills I've been following this session. The status of each bill is in the third column.

The major difference between the House and Senate at this stage for agency legislation is the percentage of increase for state employee salaries. The Senate wants 2% the first year of the biennium (2019-2020) and 3% the second year (2020-2021). The House wants 2%-2.5%, while the Democrats want 3%-3%. While it's discouraging that this difference may hold up legislation, it is encouraging that the differences are not so great as to preclude a timely compromise.

This is also the time for conference committees that are appointed when the house of origin doesn't agree with amendments put on a bill by the other chamber. There are six legislators on a conference committee - three Senators and three Representatives. Two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber. They are almost always from the committees which heard the bills in each chamber. Whatever they agree on then goes back to the house of origin first for agreement and then back to the other chamber. If there is no agreement, then another committee is appointed.

Two open records bills didn't go our way last week, but the sentiment for them is so strong among legislators that we're not likely to get any changes. One was an amendment put on Rep. Pat Heinert's guns in schools bill, HB 1332, that makes a school's safety plan - including whether there is an armed responder - confidential. It's difficult to argue against making safety plans confidential, although the fact there is an armed responder we believe should be public. A copy of the bill with these amendments is attached. The House will likely concur with the changes.

The other bill is SB 2221 which extends the confidentiality of legislative communications to those with state agencies. We got that watered down a bit in the Senate, but the House almost unanimously un-watered it last week. We'll ask for non-concurrence, but even our legislative supporters say they need to be able to communicate with state agencies about constituent matters without those individuals' names becoming public.

There was some concern earlier that a bill dealing with electricians, SB 2359, would interfere with broadcasters and newspapers audio-video operations, but that was turned into a study. A similar, but I believe less intrusive bill, HB 1157 (attached), is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow by the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee. If anyone has any angst over this bill they need to let me know right away.

As usual, let me know if you have any questions.