Interim Committees Study Proposals for ARPA Funds
North Dakota Legislative interim appropriation committees began discussions last week on how to divide the more than $1 billion granted to the state from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Of the funding available, about $300 million already has been appropriated leaving about $700 million still on the table. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees met to receive information on the various special session legislative proposals that have been submitted by legislators and Governor Doug Burgum.
The Interim House Appropriations Committee heard proposals to fund infrastructure, aid to political subdivisions and capital improvements. Within infrastructure were several water proposals, other proposals referenced county and township road infrastructure including:
- $200 million for township road and bridge projects brought forth by Rep. Sebastian Ertelt
- $30 million for township road and bridge projects brought forth by Sen. Terry Wanzek
- $50 million for township and county road crossing and drainage improvements brought forth by Sen. Wanzek. See NDCGA support of this here: NDCGA supports road infrastructure
- $780 million for city, county and township road and bridge projects brough forth by Rep. Paul Thomas
- $70 million for township road and bridge projects brought forth by Sen. Larry Luick
Agriculture capital project proposals include building upgrades to the Dickinson Research Extension Center introduced by Rep. Vicky Steiner. Sen. Rich Wardner brought forth the updated SBARE Capital Improvement Requests for a total of $78.3 million. Other projects include purchasing land for the Area 4 Soil Conservation Research Farm proposal suggested by the Governor.
The Interim Senate Appropriations Committee heard several proposals ranging from information and technology to economic development that spanned several industries. Through the executive branch, the Ag Department is requesting ARPA funding for bioscience innovation grants, IT upgrades, grants to veterinary clinics and auction markets, and expansion of the livestock finishing and processing grants. Other agricultural proposals heard before the committee include a grant to the North Dakota Stockman’s Association for conversion of a paper-based brand inspection program to an electronic system; “Farm to Pharma Center of Excellence” in Minot; a fuel production facility loan forgiveness program; and money for the Grand Farm Initiative.
Proposals heard before each interim appropriations committee will switch to be heard in the opposite appropriations committee this week. The committees will likely sit jointly the last week of October to sort through requests and develop a bill that could eventually be submitted to a fall legislative session slated to begin on November 8.
Redistricting Committee Presents Plan
The legislature’s Interim Redistricting Committee has approved a plan that would maintain the number of legislative districts in which the state is currently divided, but add two subdistricts on American Indian reservations. The boundary lines for each of the 47 districts would be redrawn under this proposal to reflect the population changes the state has seen in the last ten years. Lawmakers largely agreed with the changes, the exception being subdistricting. That legislation passed by a 10-6 vote of that committee.
The changes are part of the redistricting plan required following the 2020 census to ensure equal representation for North Dakotans across the state. The new proposal will be submitted to legislative management and to the full legislature when it convenes for session in November. New districts will be in place in time for the 2022 election cycle.
North Dakota consists of 47 legislative districts of roughly 16,576 people each. When approved by the full legislature, districts will remain intact until the next decennial census in 2030.
In the most debated move, lawmakers subdivided House districts 9 and 4 on the Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold reservations. Under this proposal, districts 4 and 9 would be represented by a single senator, as they are today, but House representation would be split into two distinct geographic regions within the district. One representative would serve Subdistrict A, one Subdistrict B. Subdistricts would be divided so that about 8,000 North Dakotans live in each subdistrict, with a majority of the population in one of the subdistricts being Native American. This proposal was strongly supported by tribes across the state as a way to increase the chances of electing tribal members to the Legislature, although Standing Rock and Spirit Lake did not meet the population threshold to make subdistricts feasible in the eyes of the committee.
The new proposal accounts for population increases in metropolitan areas, as well as in the oil patch and includes adding one district in Fargo and two new districts out west. Three districts in the northeast and southeast corners were absorbed into other districts to ensure the total number of districts remained at 47.
The committee also proposed legislation setting election requirements in the newly created, redrawn and subdivided districts, beginning in 2022.
Ag and Natural Resources Committee
The Interim Ag & Natural Resources Committee met on October 7 to address several issues, including a study of the North Dakota Beef Commission, which was authorized by the 67th legislative session.
The Beef Commission, the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota and other interested persons made reports to the committee, which did not take action but requested Legislative Council compile the election process used by other North Dakota commodity checkoffs.
Other items included the fiscal and safety impacts of United States Fish and Wildlife Service easements in North Dakota and an update from North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring on the advisory committee on Sustainable Agriculture and the Federal Environmental Law Impact Review Committee. Goehring reported the Federal Environmental Law Impact Review Fund was used in the litigation of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) studies on threatened and endangered species and was expanded during the 67th legislative session.
The meeting wrapped up with discussion with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about current easements in North Dakota and specifically the impact of these easements on agriculture. The committee will meet again in the new year.
Other Ag News
State Ag Department Puts Hold on Feed Transportation Program
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has put a hold on the Emergency Feed Transportation Program while officials await details of a similar federal program.
Under the state program, a portion of hay transportation expenses for eligible livestock producers who have lost feed supplies due to drought would be reimbursed. The $2.5 million emergency grant program is limited to livestock owners who have verifiable feed losses due to drought conditions and must purchase and transport supplemental feed between April 8 and Nov. 30, 2021.
In August, the state reactivated the Emergency Feed Transportation Program. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in September the expansion of the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program to help cover feed hauling costs for drought-impacted ranchers. North Dakota has delayed applications for its program to determine if there is overlap in the programs. State Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring urges livestock producers to keep records and receipts for transportation costs for purchased feed or feed put up outside of normal operations.
Updated information will be posted as it becomes available at this link Producers with further questions may email or call 1-844-642-4752. The ELAP Feed Transportation Producer Tool is a Microsoft Excel workbook that enables ranchers to input information specific to their operation to determine an estimated payment. Final payments may vary depending on eligibility. A tutorial video is available at Emergency Assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish
Emergency Water Supply Program Taking Applications
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture Emergency Water Supply Program has opened for applications. The $2 million program will reimburse livestock owners with verifiable water losses from the drought for 50% of eligible costs for temporary water supply, equipment and hauling, up to $4,500 per individual. Transportation costs incurred for water hauled between July 1, 2021, and Oct. 31, 2021, are eligible. Only one payment will be made, so producers should wait to apply until they have completed hauling water for the season. Read More