Tax cuts, book bans, anti-trans bills: the first half of the Legislative Session

ND Legislature
ND Legislature(KFYR-TV)
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 11:17 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2023 at 4:28 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Lawmakers are taking a break at the halfway point of this Legislative Session.

The 2023 Legislative Session has been a blur. Lawmakers have advanced historic tax cuts; they’ve approved legislation addressing the childcare crisis; they’ve voted to ban books; they’ve introduced bills to use public funds to pay for private education; advanced a bill that would allow for corporate farming; voted on a handful of pro-life bills; and they approved even more anti-transgender measures.

Tax cuts: several competing proposals have passed, including one that would cut property taxes by as much as 17%, and one that would do away with income taxes for 60% of North Dakotans.

“In a combination of tax reliefs being proposed by the chamber, we can chip away at the problem,” said Representative Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks.

The House voted to advance at least four vaccine-related bills but killed several others. Including one that would ban vaccine mandates.

“The public health, public safety aspect of this law is very dangerous ground,” said Representative Todd Porter, R-Mandan.

Big news for the dairy industry: a potential change to the definition of milk, and the ability to sell raw milk direct to consumers.

“Let’s give the people what they’re asking for. And if they don’t want it, they don’t have to buy it,” said Representative Craig Headland, R-Jamestown.

Also, non-family members might soon be able to own animal agriculture businesses together.

“This is one corporate farming bill I can support and I’m going to, because we’ve made everybody a partner in producing the best result that we can,” said Representative Jon Nelson, R-Rugby.

Then there was a slew of bills aimed at protecting landowners from eminent domain and the massive five-state Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline project: some passed, most didn’t. One that failed would’ve required companies building carbon pipelines to obtain consent from 85 percent of landowners before exercising eminent domain.

“How small of a minority should be able to outweigh the rights of the majority? That’s one of the considerations, and your committee felt that the threshold here was too high,” said Senator Jordan Kannianen, R-Stanley.

The House killed a bill that would add hate crime laws to North Dakota Century Code, even though nobody testified against it and those who testified for it said North Dakota ranks dead last in protections for LGBTQ people.

“There are a number of hate crimes that, even with the weak rules that we have in place currently to collect data on, even those are translating to number 51. I don’t know what’s worse than that,” said Gabriela Balf, a psychiatrist in Bismarck.

Speaking of LGBTQ people, lawmakers have advanced a barrage of anti-trans bills related to bathroom use, sports participation, birth record amendments, and health care. All have passed with veto-proof majorities.

“If we don’t do this, women’s athletics, girl’s athletics will be destroyed,” said Patricia Leno.

“When you take away the ability for teachers to use their proper pronouns, to use the proper pronouns, to make them feel valid, you’re really just telling them that they’re better off dead,” said Caedmon Marx from North Dakota.

Speaking of books – if one of two bills is signed into law, many won’t be available to check out or buy.

“Some will say it’s censorship, some will say it’s book banning. I would submit to you this is an honest effort to protect our children,” said Representative Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson.

“It’s an insult to librarians and it’s an insult to our citizens,” said Christine Kujawa, library director at Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.

They passed competing bills to address the retirement package for state employees – one of which would be the most expensive bill in state history.

“If you look at the facts, there’s only one option. Going from defined benefit to defined contribution,” said Representative Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson.

And soon, you could be going 80 miles an hour on I-94 and I-29 – legally.

Lawmakers voted down a bill that would make prescription drugs cheaper. They also advanced a bill that would cap insulin prices at $25 per month. The House killed a bill that would allow deer to be party hunted, and they advanced one that would prohibit bans on deer baiting. They also voted to cut taxes for the oil and gas industry. Speaking of taxes, they advanced seven of eight bills to exempt certain products from sales tax exemptions, including diapers. The only one that didn’t pass? An exemption for tampons. The Legislature is back in session next Wednesday.