2021 Legislative Session
The 2021 North Dakota Legislature will be decidedly different than past sessions, not because the issues have changed, but because lobbyists and citizens will be able to participate virtually, and all committee hearings and floor sessions will be live-streamed on the legislature’s web site.
The Capitol and committee hearings remain open to the public, but due to ongoing health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, all people entering the building are required to submit to a temperature screening, and anyone with a reading of 100.4°F or greater or who is experiencing virus symptoms may be turned away. The legislature instituted a mask rule for all areas of the Capitol controlled by the legislature, and social distancing rules limit the number of individuals who can physically attend the meetings. Click here to view a video on how to register and submit testimony for committee meetings.
The session began January 5, and barring any disruptions to the schedule, it will conclude no later than April 30 based on the state constitutional limit of 80 days. The opening day featured the traditional state-of-the-state message delivered by Governor Doug Burgum, who laid out an ambitious plan for investments in North Dakota to position the state for a prosperous future. Burgum repeated his call for passage of a $1.25 billion bonding package, emphasizing the opportunity presented by low interest rates to finance roads, bridges, water supply systems, career and technical education centers, and other one-time infrastructure projects. The governor's bonding proposal, and others pitched by Republican and Democrat lawmakers, would finance the bonding package with a portion of earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund.
Legislation aimed a preserving the state’s lignite industry will be among WDEA’s top priorities. Gov. Burgum noted in his speech that his administration is working hard to find a market-based economic path forward for Coal Creek Station, the planned closing of which was announced last May. Legislation was expected to be introduced to continue to support research into technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions, and to help finance CO2-capture projects at the state’s coal plants.
Maintaining equitable distribution of oil tax revenue will remain a top priority for WDEA in 2021. The association was successful in 2019 in generating support for Operation Prairie Dog, a bill intended to share oil tax revenue with non-oil cities and counties, but which also secured the crucial 70-30 State/Local split in the gross production tax (GPT) distribution formula, maintained Hub City funding and removed the sunset clause that necessitated legislative review every two years.
Despite the reduction in the state's revenue picture, school funding and construction needs remain a top issue for WDEA. Western school districts support maintaining or accelerating the move to “on-time” funding in the Foundation Aid formula, basing the per-pupil payment on current enrollment rather than the student number from the previous school year. Western schools also support establishing a mill-levy equivalent for GPT revenue, rather than requiring all districts to maintain a minimum 60-mill level as a demonstration of local taxing effort. Districts in the west where school construction is more expensive than the east would also like the legislature to consider a weighting factor to provide "construction equity" in the Foundation Aid formula.
The oil and gas industry is expected to pursue legislation seeking incentives to help Bakken producers improve their competitive position with other shale basins. Bills will likely be introduced to support state research into enhanced oil recovery and for establishing a petrochemical industry in the state. Royalty owners may also promote legislation to clarify the industry’s ability to claim post-production royalty deductions.