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Two-a-days: North Dakota legislators sprint toward mid-session break

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers are sprinting toward their mid-session break this week with several big-ticket items left to consider.

The House and Senate each held two floor sessions Tuesday, Feb. 21 and plan to do the same Wednesday. Legislators are working through the last bills before the crossover break, after which each chamber will consider bills approved by lawmakers across the hall.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he expects the House to complete its work Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the same for that chamber.

"We're on a good schedule to get done," Carlson said. The Legislature will reconvene from the break March 1.

Through Monday, the 33rd day of the session, the House had acted on 356 bills while another 78 waited for action. Senators had acted on 325 bills, while only 19 waited for action, according to information provided by Legislative Council.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a higher education budget bill that included $616.4 million in general fund spending for the approaching two-year funding cycle, down from the $896.6 million that the Legislature approved two years ago for the 2015-17 biennium. Lawmakers are dealing with reduced tax revenue that's blamed on lower oil and farm commodity prices.

On Wednesday, the Senate will consider passing the medical marijuana implementation bill after its Appropriations Committee gave it a "do pass" recommendation Tuesday. The bill amends the initiated measure passed by voters legalizing medical marijuana with what proponents argue are needed safeguards.

The bill will need the support of two-thirds of the Senate to pass because it amends a recently passed initiated measure.

The Senate will also consider a bill to repeal the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, otherwise known as BreatheND. It also authorizes the transfer of the control of its funding to the state Health Department, said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

BreatheND officials have been critical of the proposal.

"Voters have repeatedly agreed they want tobacco prevention to be a priority and are overwhelmingly satisfied with the work of BreatheND," Jeanne Prom, executive director of BreatheND, said in a statement released Monday. "Senate Appropriations actions on funding for tobacco prevention at insufficient levels at the Health Department completely ignore voters' wishes."

The House on Tuesday considered a variety of bills dealing with the state's gun laws, approved a bill seeking to prevent the application of "foreign laws" that violate constitutional rights and passed legislation that says there is a "rebuttable presumption that equal parenting time and residential responsibility promotes the best interests and welfare of the child" in a parental rights proceeding.

House lawmakers also voted down several bills Democrats have dubbed "good governance" legislation. Among them was a prohibition on the personal use of campaign contributions.

But the House did unanimously pass legislation requiring that an ethics committee, which already exists in state law, include members of the majority and minority parties of each house.

Still left on the House calendar, however, are a number of spending bills. That includes more than $1.3 billion in general funds in the Department of Human Services budget, and more than $1.9 billion through the state funding formula for K-12 schools in the Department of Public Instruction budget bill.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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