Legislative Report District 13: Controversial issues surfacing as key legislative topics
By Rep. Alon Wieland
As we approach the end of the first four weeks of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, the controversial issues are appearing, and it looks as if there will be quite a few. Some of them will be touched on in this article, but by no means all of them. Most folks already know what is controversial to them, and those may or may not be discussed.
One of the top issues is real estate tax reform, and other tax reform issues. Current real estate taxes help to provide funding to local entities to pay for such things as snow removal, police protection, refuse removal, fire protection, park maintenance, water supply, social service assistance, courtrooms, jails, veteran assistance, and part of the k-12 school funding, just to name a few. Counties, cities, park districts, townships, and school s are the entities that set the taxes, and receive the tax dollars. The state doesn’t receive any of the dollars, and does not participate in the setting of the taxes, except that some State policies may affect some of the amounts. In a recent election, some folks thought that all of these services should be paid by the state, however that election failed. But there are many that feel that their real estate taxes are too high. The Legislature is hoping to find some formula that will reduce these taxes in a manner that will be fair and meaningful. This will be difficult to do unless there is some sort of control of spending by those entities. This will be difficult, because it would mean some loss of local control.
Another issue is Medicaid Expansion. This was proposed by the Governor in HB 1012. To start, 100 percent of the insurance for those newly eligible would be paid by the federal government for the first two years, then reducing to 90 percent by 2020. We are told that we can opt out if the funding changes, but what happens to those who have signed up. The cost to the federal government will be tremendous if all states were to accept, and who knows how long the federal government will be able to pay for this program. The government is already borrowing over 40 percent of all expenses it has now.
DUI’s are a big topic of conversation in this session. Some folks want to put a first offender in jail. Others want a program that requires a devise in their car, and others want to restrict either driving, or drinking. One problem is that when first offenders are put in jail, the family goes on welfare, creating other problems. Also, that could overload the jails, requiring more cells to be constructed. Taking away the right to drink is a good idea, but puts the burden on bar owners and bottle shops. But it might keep a family off welfare.
The Senate has two bills and a resolution that talks about abortion, personhood, and other issues involving a fetus. The opponents claim that these bills will affect the use of medical means of helping women to become pregnant. These bills are always controversial and pits right to life folks against choice folks, and usually starts many heated arguments.
One last issue is the increase of fines for speeding. It is true that fines are low in North Dakota, but some opponents are accusing cities and counties of wanting to increase fines as a means of raising revenue than to curb infractions. There are inconsistencies of laws where there are four lane roads that have lower speed limits than some two lane roads, and that these are speed traps. It could lead to absolute limits, allowing for fines to be given for one mile per hour over the limit. Those are the arguments and a decision will be reached.
It is still too early to predict what will happen, but these issues and others make for an interesting session.
As always, your 13th District Legislative Team is interested in your views. We try to answer your e-mails, but phone calls can reach us as well. You can reach us by e-mail at: Senator Judy Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org, Representative Kim Koppelman, email@example.com, Representative Alon Wieland, firstname.lastname@example.org.