The 63rd legislative session began on January 8 and will last a maximum of 80 days, which means an end date of May 1. During that time, approximately 1000 bills will be heard, studied and will have votes in the Senate or House. The Senate can introduce bills until January 28, but the House deadline was January 21. After that date, no new bills can be introduced, unless special circumstances occur, so legislators know the workload is for each committee and can schedule hearings accordingly.
The Senate Human Services committee, which I have chaired since 2001, continues to see a wide variety of subjects brought for attention. Because of Obamacare provisions, all states must now use the same standard for eligibility for Children's Health Insurance, called Healthy Steps. Currently in ND, there are many deductions and disregards which help to determine a family's net income, permitting those with high child care costs and other expenses to be able to work and still receive health care insurance for their children. Now all states must use the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) figure from income tax returns. It is difficult to calculate a gross income figure that correlates to the net figures which have been used without having some families with high costs and better income drop off of the program. Their higher income currently is reduced to an eligible level, when deductions are considered. That will no longer be possible. We are likely to end up with an additional category of covered children in order to assure that no one currently receiving benefits will have them cut. After 2019, CHIP is no longer funded, according to Obamacare provisions, because all of these families are expected to be covered through an exchange. There is much that is still a moving target with all of this.
One subject which is a new one for us is insurance coverage for gestational carriers who are women carrying a baby for intended parents. One would anticipate that the intended parents would cover the costs of the pregnancy and delivery for the child which will be part of their family, but that is not necessarily so.
The Industry, Business and Labor committee has heard bills concerning Workers Compensation, including assuring that a specialist's determination of Permanent Partial Impairment falls within the limits already established by the first 2 doctors. It will prevent the rare occurrence, when the specialist has determined a lower rate, leading to a lower benefit for the injured worker. A study to assure that the Legacy Fund will provide the lasting benefits intended by the voters was also passed by the committee. That fund cannot be expended until June 30, 2017. They also heard a bill about power assisted doors in public buildings.
The Senate Education committee heard Higher Education reports from Chancellor Shirvani and from all 11 college and university presidents to provide a good baseline of information about their needs and challenges.
The Finance and Tax committee is working on a variety of proposals to reduce income, property, and sales taxes. Coordinating all of the ideas into one coherent and simple plan is a big challenge, but that is their goal. Roll-your-own cigarette machines were a topic, too. They are not taxed, so some businesses are purchasing the $35,000 machines, making cigarettes, and selling them at a much cheaper price.
Transportation issues throughout the state are being considered by that committee, including load limits and penalties, as well as the obvious needs for infrastructure improvements.
All committees will be hearing bills with a price tag right away, because those bills must go on to the Appropriations Committee for their review before the final vote.
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