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District 13 Legislative Report: As crossover point arrives, balancing priorities a must

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Crossover is that point in the legislative session when all bills must have been up for votes in their house of origin and, if passed, will cross over to the other house. We have reached that point in the process, and now we will schedule in Senate committees those bills passed by the House. The schedules of hearings are posted each Friday morning for the following week on the legislative website which is www.legis.nd.gov. If you are interested in a particular bill, watch that schedule for the hearing and either send messages to the legislators on the committee or attend the hearing and give your comments in person.

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The last few days before crossover, just like the last several days of the session, are primarily spent discussing and voting on bills with appropriations. There is a need to balance the priorities of spending versus saving. It is much more difficult to give up something than it is to have gotten along without it in the first place. However, there are some needs that deserve support and are expensive. Flood control in southeast North Dakota, management of Devils Lake, repair of roads and bridges throughout the entire state, along with the usual costs of K-12 and higher education and human services need to be funded. Some of the expenditures may be one-time costs and others will be on-going. K-12 funding passed the Senate with good funding, along with providing more flexibility for scholarships for N.D. students. Human services take the biggest portion of the budget, so it is an easy target, but it primarily covers children, the elderly, and disabled. Eighty-three percent of the budget goes to recipients and providers; only 6% is spent on administration. It takes $1 million to give a 10 cent/hour raise to workers in group homes serving people with intellectual disabilities. It's even more expensive to give raises to people working in long term care facilities, because there are more of them. Those staff members are very important, because our neighbors living in the facilities need to see the same faces regularly. They are the only "family" that some of them have. In order to hire and retain good staff, salaries must be competitive.

Your legislators want to hear from you. Phone messages can be left at 1-888-ND-LEGIS. If possible, e-mail messages are likely to get a quicker response. Senator Judy Lee, jlee@nd.gov, 282-6512; Rep. Kim Koppelman, kkoppelman@nd.gov, 282-9267; awieland@nd.gov, 282-9470.

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