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Legislative Report District 13: Interim committees get the job done

North Dakota's business continues to be done by your legislators at interim study committees. The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee (LAFRC) met March 27 to receive audit reports on several state entities. The one which took the most time was the audit of Dickinson State University. There were many questions asked by committee members and we learned that the system is working the way it should. There were problems with the previous president's policies; they were discovered and investigated, both by the Board of Higher Education and the ND Auditor's Department; appropriate actions have been taken, including terminating that president, and they continue to be implemented; Dickinson State University under the very capable leadership of the new president, D.C. Coston are making the necessary changes to make DSU a top-notch university. There will be periodic reports to the legislature, but the primary oversight is the responsibility of the Board of Higher Education.

The Health Services committee continues to deliberate about what can be done to encourage more students to consider health care careers. North Dakota has a shortage of health care workers, including physicians, dentists, nurses at every level, and other providers. The shortages are critical in the rural areas, but urban areas also have trouble recruiting enough providers. The University of North Dakota Medical School has been very proactive in working with local middle and high school students to expose them to health careers, as well as encouraging rural residencies for medical school students so that they can experience that type of providing care. There are many other ideas being explored, and the committee would be very receptive to any good ideas that others may have.

The Health Care Reform Review committee has the challenge of monitoring and implementing as required the federal health care act. The law has now been heard by the US Supreme Court, but it is very challenging to determine what the state should do to comply with current law and still anticipate changes as a result of the Supreme Court ruling later this summer.

A report of projected revenue allocations was provided at a recent meeting that showed how tax collections will be distributed, based on current law. The majority of the funds are dedicated to particular funds, such as Foundation Aid Stabilization and the Common Schools Trust Fund, both of which fund K-12 education. The Legacy Trust Fund which voters approved as a Constitutional amendment, sets aside part of the money for future stable support of government services; the earnings from that fund cannot be touched until 2017, and the principle cannot be used without a ¾ vote of both legislative bodies. Other funds include the Resources Trust Fund which is for water projects, including Devils Lake and Cass flood control; Property Tax Relief Fund; Budget Stabilization (Rainy Day) Fund which can only be spent, if there is a shortfall; State Disaster Relief Fund; Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund which is used to finance roads and bridges repair; and the Ending Fund balance, which is what is left over after the other funds have been filled.

Two factors could have enormous impact on the financial status of the state. One would be the passage of Measure 2, eliminating property tax, and that is a topic for a future report. The other is any action by the Environmental Protection Agency restricting fracking, which would end oil development in the state. It is an enormous challenge, trying to figure out how to plan what is best for North Dakota with those two unknowns in the picture.

Your legislators appreciate hearing your ideas and opinions on these and other issues facing the state. Please contact us, if you have a thought to share; Sen. Judy Lee or 282-6512; Rep. Kim Koppelman,, or 282-9267; and Rep. Alon Wieland,, or 282-9470.