Continued Calls for a Full Performance Audit of Oil and Gas Division is Warranted

Last Friday, Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune published an article stating 38,700 emails had been deleted by the Department of Mineral Resource’s Oil and Gas Division but later recovered after an open records request. Those who instigated the request suggest the deletion of these emails was at the directive of Lynn Helms, the Director of the Department. The situation leads to further questions, all of which could be answered with a full performance audit of the Oil and Gas Division.

We’ve written about this particular performance audit more than once over the six months of our publication. Our first call for an audit was included in a post about creating smart oversight for pipeline infrastructure. Secondly, and much more relevant was when we asked Governor Doug Burgum to uphold his campaign pledge of supporting this very audit during the GOP primary.

READ: GOVERNOR BURGUM SHOULD PURSUE OIL & GAS AUDIT (AUDIO INCLUDED)

Repeated attempts to move forward with this audit in the Legislature have been to no avail. The argument continuously used by Director Lynn Helms is that the Department is regularly audited. True, as is every department. But those are routine audits, not performance audits. For a clear example of how the revelations differ from the two, we can look at the Department of Trust Lands. After routine audits were performed things seems to be running okay. Then a performance audit was undertaken which revealed startling mismanagement and demand for corrective actions. The performance audit led former Governor Jack Dalrymple to order over a dozen changes as recommended by the performance audit. 

The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee can and should add this to the agenda at their next meeting. I’ve heard Lynn Helms may be invited to give preemptive remarks to the committee. This is a rather odd step that has not necessarily been granted to other agencies and institutions. It leads us to question why it would be allowed in this instance.

Section 54-10-01 lays out specifically how the Auditor and the committee have authority to make this request. Here is the language from Section 4 of 54-10-01:

Perform or provide for performance audits of state agencies, or the agencies’ blended component units or discreetly presented component units, as determined necessary by the state auditor or the legislative audit and fiscal review committee.

An interesting and unexpected variable was thrown into this equation recently. The questionable separation of the Performance Audit Manager, Jason Wahl, and the Auditor’s Office now headed by Josh Gallion. Wahl’s position was removed in the legislative session when Rep. Mike Nathe introduced an amendment to the Auditor’s budget. Governor Burgum vetoed the language, and the Senate upheld the veto. Nathe targeted Wahl specifically and claims it was for budgetary reasons. I’m not buying it. Others in Bismarck have indicated the move may have been more political if not outright personal. We will continue to work to get to the bottom of it. Interestingly, Nathe serves on the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. The whole situation leaves me to doubt the Auditors Office would make this a priority without the request from the Legislative Committee.

Interested parties content on maintaining the status quo complain this could turn into a political witch hunt, to which I say if there is nothing going on then there is nothing to worry about. In fact, the intent of the performance audit is to find areas of improvement and government efficiency by providing guidelines for agencies to adopt. That is exactly what happened with the Department of Trust Lands. It is also why Governor Doug Burgum supported the idea less than a year ago. This performance audit seems to fit neatly into the messaging Republicans have laid out before the voters post session and equally to the repeated demands of the Democrats. There is no reason to not undertake this audit. Royalty owners, oil and gas companies, and taxpayers should demand it.

Is North Dakota in a Position to Pick Up More of the Medicaid Tab?

Is North Dakota in a position to take on more of Medicaid’s funding? That is an important question to consider while Congress debates health care reform. Under the rushed plan passed by the House of Representatives, Medicaid would be shifted to a new funding formula. Reports suggest the new formula would limit federal expenditures and place a bigger burden onto the states. The official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score is expected to be released on May 24th.

Often people simply equate Medicaid to poor people. Partly true, but Medicaid also funds many services for children, women, working individuals, and helps keep rural hospitals afloat. It is so much more than just low income individuals that benefit. These vital services are funded jointly by the federal government and states. Currently, the funding for traditional Medicaid comes from an equation known as Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Over the past couple of years, when North Dakota’s budget grew, our state and federal share became approximately 50-50. The state picked up more while our federal reimbursement diminished because we could afford it. Under current federal law, states cannot receive less than a 50% federal match.

Medicaid Expansion, part of Obamacare, expanded eligibility in states who voted to allow it and is primarily funded by the federal government. That funding will be phased down to 90% federal funding by the year 2020. States will then pick up the other 10%. In 2013, North Dakota expanded Medicaid to a lot of people’s surprise. It was renewed this year, and approximately 20,000 North Dakotans have benefited from its passage.

Though the Medicaid funding formulas are different, one thing is common; both rely heavily on constant federal funding. Under the current GOP plan in Congress, that federal funding would be capped putting more pressure on state budgets to either increase their expenditures or cut services to individuals and hospitals that so desperately rely on it. Which begs the question if North Dakota is in an ideal position for this? My answer: absolutely not.

We saw the dramatic downturn in our state’s budget over the last two years because of volatile commodities and poor fiscal management by the Republican-led Legislature. To make the budget balance this session, they cut services and dug deep into budgetary reserves. The method does not look to be sustainable over the long run and for future budgets. The decrease in federal funding doesn’t mean the cost of providing these services will go down. In fact, costs will likely continue to rise. Is the legislature prepared to fill that gap with increase general fund dollars? I’m not confident they are. Governor Burgum and legislators themselves should not be eager for these federal changes.

And where in the hell are the local associations when it comes to speaking publicly on this federal healthcare bill? A couple of weeks ago, the Fargo Forum ran a story saying local organizations remain quiet or did not return requests for comment on the GOP health care replacement plan. (Ironically, when I reached out to the Forum reporter for comment, he didn’t return my request either.) Where does the North Dakota Hospital Association (NDHA) stand on the potential changes to Medicaid? The rural hospitals they represent have a lot at stake in this debate. Not only do they rely on these organizations to speak up, but they can serve the greater public by informing them of the potential impacts.

Others like to point out their silence is because the reform has a long ways to go before becoming law. They’re correct. But, I wish those same individuals would tell that to Congressman Cramer who grabbed a six pack after voting for these changes and went to celebrate at the White House. If people aren’t informed on the impacts and what they might mean for family, their place of work, or their rural hospital, the Senate might not make the changes necessary. These groups speak up all the time while legislation is being crafted, what is different this time? It is too important to remain silent for political reasons.

If Congress is successful in passing health care reform with the current changes to Medicaid in the next two years, the North Dakota Legislature was only successful in holding onto three legislative days. They failed to maintain ten as they had hoped for. Three days on something so large means a rushed public debate. If North Dakota needs to pay more to maintain access to vital care delivered through Medicaid, does the Legislature have the will to do so? We better begin this debate sooner rather than later.

NDGOP: “…New Tax Rate would put LESS money into Oil Tax Buckets.”

The political debate surrounding the Republican decision to cut the oil extraction tax in 2015 continues over two years later. Rightly so, because this rushed change to North Dakota’s oil tax collections is having profound long-term impacts on our state budget. Moreover, the Republican decision to cut the oil extraction tax was passed and implemented without any study or prior analysis. The end product of this arbitrary oil tax cut has cost the state $235,530,746 to date according to Tax Department figures.

First, a quick refresher on how the oil extraction tax works. There are two separate components at play here. First, the tax rate itself, which was established by North Dakota voters via initiated measure in November of 1980. Second, the so-called “trigger,” which was a provision to automatically lower the voter-approved rate when the price of oil stayed below a specific dollar amount for an extended period of time. The trigger was created by the North Dakota Legislature in 1991. The 1991 bill to create the trigger was SB 2279 and was sponsored entirely by Republican legislators. One of those sponsors was then Representative Rich Wardner, the current Senate Majority Leader from Dickinson.

The two parts to the oil extraction tax – the tax rate and the trigger – are entirely separate policy decisions. One was created by the people in 1980; the other was created by the Legislature eleven years later. Thus, illustrating that we can change one without changing the other. But, that wasn’t what happened in the final days of the 2015 legislative session.

The Republican machine, along with its public relations specialists and oil industry lobbyists, continues to manipulate the narrative regarding the decision to cut the oil extraction tax. Only now, Republican talking heads are using simplistic catch phrases developed in last year’s Presidential campaign, calling legitimate disagreements over tax policy “fake news.” To state firmly that the tax rate and the separate trigger must be acted upon at the same time with the same legislative action is patently false. Those who claim otherwise are practicing the art of saying anything while knowing nothing.

Yes, eliminating the trigger prevented a huge revenue loss. But every legislator – Republican and Democrat – along with every policy expert I know of agreed the trigger should be eliminated. On the other hand, following the elimination of the trigger with a controversial decision to permanently cut the oil extraction tax rate from 6.5% to 5% without question caused loss of revenue. Of course the averted revenue loss from eliminating the trigger is bigger than the loss from the cut to the tax rate, at least in the short term. But, lumping these two separate policy decisions together is spin at best and dishonest at worst.

Senator Rich Wardner

By their own admission, the Republican’s decision to cut the extraction tax rate would bring in less revenue for the state. As a sponsor of the 2015 bill, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner – the same Rich Wardner who created the trigger in 1991 – admitted it on record during the Senate Finance and Tax hearing on April 21st, 2015. When giving his testimony in support of the oil tax cut, Wardner had this to say:

If everything were the same, the revenue under the new tax rate would put less money into the oil tax buckets. – Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – Dickinson)

“If everything were the same” i.e. keeping the rate at 6.5% while also eliminating the trigger, we’d have maintained $235,530,756 in revenue according to the Republican-controlled Tax Department. That scenario is one of the alternatives offered by Democratic lawmakers not once, but twice in 2015. It was also offered in 2013 by Democrats.

All attempts by Democrats to simply remove the trigger were rejected by the Republicans.

(BELOW): A month-to-month breakdown of what each proposal would offer in tax collections. The blue bar shows what the state would have collected if lawmakers simply eliminated the trigger without cutting the tax rate.

(BELOW): A cumulative chart since January of 2016. This chart includes the third bar without the tax cut passed by Republicans which has been “conveniently” left out by others.

It never was a take-it-or-leave-it in 2015 as Republicans would like you to believe. Their political decision to couple the elimination of the trigger with a reduction in the tax rate itself was a decision made behind closed doors. Not only did Democrats offer a plan to eliminate the trigger while leaving the tax rate untouched, they also wanted to study what the most effective oil tax rate would be. The purpose of the study: at what rate would we be able to maintain our budget priorities while also satisfying economic growth?

I don’t think that this bill has not been thought out. YOU (Rep. Mitskog, D – Wahpeton) have maybe not been part of these discussions, but I have. It has been thought out for awhile now. – Rep. Craig Headland (R – Montpelier)

Rep. Craig Headland

Instead, the Republicans insisted on an arbitrary cut to the tax rate for purely political reasons. It is important to note their original wish was to cut the rate from 6.5% to 4.5%. They settled for 5% based on nothing more than wanting to cut taxes for oil companies. Rep. Tom Kading said as much in the House Finance and Tax meeting when he said any change to the trigger without lowering the tax rate would not pass the House Chamber. Politics, not prudent policy decisions, ruled the five days this bill was debated at the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Go through the minutes. It was repeatedly asked what Republicans were basing their decision to cut the oil extraction tax on. Nobody – not Al Carlson, not Rich Wardner, not Craig Headland, not Dwight Cook – not a single one of them could provide a coherent answer as to why they wanted to cut the oil extraction tax rate. That’s because no study or prior-analysis was conducted to determine what the most effective extraction tax rate would be. Remember, the rate of 6.5% at the time brought us to being the second largest oil producing state in the nation.

The false narrative that the only options were to go along with the Republican tax cut or maintain the status quo and have zero tax revenue while the trigger was on simply isn’t true. Blindsided with the 11th-hour oil tax bill left people scrambling. Nobody in the Republican majority would express the full impact of this permanent cut in the tax rate. Perhaps it was either because they didn’t know the impact of their decision, or maybe they just didn’t want you to know.

We continue to see people paint a false narrative by omitting information relevant to having an open, honest debate. The bottom line is that this was a politically motivated tax cut. It produced a lower tax rate not based on research, but on what was politically popular to do at the time for campaign donors and special interests. Because of the partisan decision to cut the oil extraction tax in 2015, vital services and tax rates for living, breathing North Dakotans are being impacted. In our upcoming series, you will learn exactly how this impacts you.

Oil Tax Collections Comparison Chart by Tyler Axness on Scribd

Burgum Vetoes Public Employee Retirement Power Grab by Carlson

Governor Doug Burgum line-item vetoed a number of bills over the last couple of days. One of the budgets Burgum line-item vetoed was the Public Employees and Retirement System (PERS). Make no mistake; this was a direct rebuttal to House Majority Leader Al Carlson.

You may recall, the end of the session was drawn out by a power struggle between what Carlson wanted and what Senator Rich Wardner wanted. The two went back and forth over the PERS budget, funding for Dickinson State University, and other Higher Education prioritizes. A grand compromise was reached last week, and legislators went back home on Thursday.

The changes in the PERS budget would have added twelve legislators to the Health Care Coverage Committee and mandated the board to look at self-insurance. All of the changes in sections six through thirteen were Carlson demands. On May 2nd, Burgum vetoed sections six through thirteen. This is a welcome development for the public employees I’ve talked to.

It is an interesting display of authority. At the end of the legislative session, Burgum, Carlson, and Wardner stood at a podium and congratulated each other for completing the session. A couple of days later, Burgum removed a lot of what Carlson demanded after he left town. Wardner got to keep what he wanted. Were Wardner and Burgum in on this together?

Many of us have wondered where Burgum was during his first session. Perhaps this goes to show he was plotting all along. It will be curious to see if Carlson, known for his vindictive ways, will attempt to call the House back and try to override the veto. There are three legislative days left meaning leaders can call themselves back to work. It is highly doubtful the Senate would go along seeing its leader was a clear victor in this game of politics.

HB 1023 Veto Message by Tyler Axness on Scribd

House Overrides Burgum Line-Item Veto on Parks and Recreation Budget

Governor Burgum issued a line-item veto to the state’s Parks and Recreation Department  budget to remove special privileges placed in by an amendment. Section 13 of HB 1019 directs the Department to establish rules to the state park marinas to allow only individuals and their immediate families who currently rent a slip to swim in the area. Because it allows this privilege only to certain individuals, Burgum used his veto pen.

Here is the full language of amended section 13:

SECTION 13. LEGISLATIVE INTENT – STATE PARK MARINA SWIMMING RULES.

It is the intent of the sixty-fifth legislative assembly that the parks and recreation department
establish rules for state park marinas to allow an individual currently renting a slip at the marina
and the individual’s immediate family members to swim in the marina area subject to the
individual and each family member signing a release of liability waiver form developed by the
department.

This seemed like very specific language in the amendment so I asked around why it was added. I’m told the driving force behind this amendment is State Senator and NDGOP Chairman Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson. Armstrong was apparently upset his children aren’t allowed to swim in one of the marinas where he keeps his boat. After the Department had decided to not change their internal rule at his request, the amendment appeared in their budget bill.

The Department seems to think allowing swimming in these areas is too dangerous. I’ll let you be the judge on that one. To be honest, if I were utilizing the area and my family wanted to swim but weren’t allowed to under my supervision, I’d be annoyed as well. With that said, trying to pull rank as a legislator and give yourself special privileges that other North Dakotans would not have isn’t the right approach. If the legislative body thinks swimming should be allowed in these areas, it should be allowed for everyone.

I bring it to your attention because hours after Governor Burgum issued his line-item veto to strip these special privileges from a budget bill, the House overrode the veto on a vote of 80 to 8. The vote to override the veto will likely be before the Senate today.

HB 1019 Veto Message Signed by Tyler Axness on Scribd

Day 75: Who is going to Blink?

Tonight at 6:30 in Bismarck the “Sine Die” party is scheduled to take place. This party is the celebration held by legislators to mark the end of the session. It’s meant to be a joyous occasion. However, over the last few sessions, it’s resembled more of a junior high dance with the Senate members huddled on one side of the room and the House members on the other. If you’ve followed this session, you can expect the divide to be even further in the hotel ballroom.

One has to wonder if the Sine Die will be rescheduled. After all Sine Die is meant to mark the end of legislative business without a later date set to meet. Disregard the leadership’s talk last week of finishing today, the 75th day of 80 (78th Day if you include the days they didn’t gavel into floor session). That deadline was issued after leadership failed to adjourn on their first self-imposed deadline of day 70. So why are they still there? There are a lot of big items left to resolve before the champagne should flow at any party in Bismarck.

Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is yet again one of the final budgets being hotly debated. The House wants a self-insurance policy, the Senate isn’t ready for this policy change offered via amendment by Rep. Al Carlson. This showdown between the chambers is eerily similar to the end of the 2015 session when the House closed up shop and left town because the Senate wouldn’t go with their changes to the PERS budget regarding Sanford Health taking over their insurance policy. Are we facing the same outcome again?

It also appears Carlson is holding dollars for Dickinson State University (DSU) as a “bargaining chip” to get Senator Rich Wardner to accept some of Carlson’s wishes. Wardner represents Dickinson along with Senator Kelly Armstrong. The House rejected the Senate’s version of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). DSU funding added through an amendment by Wardner wasn’t “germane” to the OMB budget they said. A case can be made that this amendment can be placed into the Higher Education budget which is still being debated. Carlson certainly isn’t afraid to offer pet project amendments to that budget.

Anyone familiar with the process knows the OMB budget is where legislators throw all sorts of things in. Most of them have nothing to do with OMB. “Germane” is a convenient excuse used here to stick it to the Senate and Wardner. Carlson and company certainly didn’t give a damn about germane when Rep Headland placed an amendment to reduce funding for senior services and Meals on Wheels. 

Once those two issues are resolved, we’re told then the Chambers can come together and finish their other work. Until then, some of the conference committees are getting together, staring across the table at each other, stating their Chamber’s position on the bill before them have not changed, and then leaving after a couple of minutes. Gavel in. Stare blankly. Gavel out. Repeat. Meanwhile, the taxpayers are footing the bill.

I said in a previous post, these games and distractions are undertaken by a handful of legislators. The vast majority of our elected members simply want to wrap up, pop a champagne bottle, toast their colleagues goodbye, and get home to their families. It is a shame really. But don’t forget they elected the leadership spearheading this game of hostage in the first place. Specifically in the House. Perhaps a change will speed up the process in future sessions and save us all money in the long run.

Al Carlson Attempts to Force NDSU into Land Swap which would cost Millions

If you thought the fight over the NDSU Nursing Program in Bismarck was over and an isolated event, think again. It seems as if there is never an end to the vindictive back room deals that come from the ND House of Representatives. And I’ve said it before – nothing occurs in the waning moments of the session without Majority Leader AL Carlson’s initiation or approval.

You recall that an amendment written specifically to close the NDSU Nursing Program in Bismarck was walked back once we put a collective spotlight on their action. To save face, Rep. Al Carlson, Bob Martinson, and his other followers suggested this was simply a strategy to get a better deal for NDSU. In other words, they used 250 NDSU nursing students to force Sanford to reduce rent by $800,000 over the biennium.

Amendments to the NDSU budget were then prepared by Carlson and company to stray from the Higher Education funding formula by reducing funding by $1.5 million ($700,000 more than the reduced rent.) By all observers around the Capitol, this was simply a vindictive measure against NDSU. The overall cut Carlson and his cronies were proposing was in the neighborhood of $3.5 million.

We are told that negotiators have narrowed Carlson’s vindictive NDSU reductions to just over $1 million.

Here’s where it becomes interesting:

It seems that NDSU owns some prime real estate on the Northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 29 and 19th Avenue North in Fargo. A developer who holds an interest in a property to the west has been wanting NDSU to ‘swap’ their land with the less valuable land controlled by that developer. Appraisals of the two properties indicated that the NDSU land was initially worth around $4 million more than the other property. A later appraisal indicated that the differential had widened even more with NDSU’s land valuation rising even higher.

Rep. Al Carlson

So, Al Carlson prepares an amendment to force the land swap. He presents this amendment despite knowledge of the vast difference in appraisals that are justified not only by location, but also because of drainage issues and the railroad crossing on the land further west.

As we’ve said before, nothing is by accident this late in the legislative session. It is all premeditated. One has to ask why Al Carlson would insist on a land swap that would cost NDSU, the public university in the city he represents, millions of dollars. What relationship does he have with the developer that would result in Carlson working on behalf of private interests over and above public interests? Is it just a coincidence the developer is a large, continuous, contributor to the NDGOP and Republican candidates?

This stinking dead fish landed on the plates of the Higher Education conference committee, and unless all of you speak up, Carlson will get away with this. It is curious that the majority leader of the North Dakota House would propose an amendment that is clearly not in the best interest of the state. It is an absolute mystery that legislators in his caucus sit silently by allowing these actions to occur time and time again.

It is Day 73 of the 80 day session. It is because of personal vendettas and secretive motives like the one Carlson has against NDSU and Higher Education that keeps the legislature working. All of it costs you more tax dollars for Carlson to play his little games.

Lawmakers Try to Exempt Themselves From Weapons Law

Senator Rich Wardner

An attempt to give themselves additional weapon exemptions was turned back to conference committee today in the Senate. SB 2139 was amended in conference committee by Rep. Glenn Bosch (read Rep. Todd Porter and Senator Kelly Armstrong) that would allow “state elected officials” a.k.a. Legislators to carry a concealed weapon in a “publicly owned or operated building” a.k.a. The Capitol Building or public schools. They would have added themselves to the list of others who are exempt including law enforcement and members of the armed forces.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner was not a fan of the attempt by lawmakers to give themselves special privileges and sent it back to conference committee in hopes to have the language removed. Wardner did the right thing as leader. If lawmakers are concerned about suspicious activity at the Capitol, they’ve already upgraded the security to address that. There is something inherently wrong when elected officials elevate themselves higher than the general public they serve.

Day 71: Why is the Legislature Still in Session?

Day 71 of the 80 day legislative session starts today. You may recall hearing House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner state they wanted to finish on day 70. Just as they’ve done in the previous two sessions, they failed to achieve their self-imposed deadline even though they “control the flow of bills.” Let’s break down a couple of the reasons legislators are still in Bismarck.

Over $500 Million Budget Gap

As of last Friday, the budget was $595,476,415 short of balancing. They’ve had two full legislative days to cut into that difference. Undoubtedly, large budgets are still being hammered out in back rooms of the Capitol. In previous public comments, Rep. Al Carlson stated those figures, the official public numbers available by the nonpartisan Legislative Council, were wrong. More like $55 to $60 million according to Carlson. In other words, Carlson and his inner circle have been chopping apart budgets in the smoke filled rooms away from the public.

It’s not just Carlson keeping this secret from you. Senator Rich Wardner is equally to blame for the secrecy. Here is what he told Nick Smith of the Bismarck Tribune, “Believe it or not, we have two or three options,” Wardner said of balancing the books, though he didn’t disclose specifics.

Close to $600 million by official accounts need to be accounted for and you’re not letting the public see it? Is it because they know what they are about to do won’t be well received, and the situation more dire than what they’re letting on, that they want to be doing 80 mph on the 75 mph interstate rushing out of Bismarck before you find out? While they’re cutting deep into programs, transferring and eliminating funds, and dramatically changing funding formulas, they’re purposefully keeping you in the dark.

READ: REP. AL CARLSON PUBLICLY ADMITS RESPONSIBILITY FOR BUDGET SITUATION

Micromanagement by Al Carlson

Conference Committee time is when the micromanagement in the ND House clearly presents itself. The “need” for House members to “run everything upstairs” before making a decision draws out the process and consumes time. I’ve witnessed it first hand. Here is a little story from the last session to demonstrate how it works. A conference committee was formed to create new services for people with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). All six of us conferees agreed with the compromise in the committee, but the Chair wouldn’t call for a vote until he “ran it upstairs” to Carlson. We met no less than ten times, and the House was “forced” to go with a figure Carlson arbitrarily set at his desk and completely stripped the authority of the House members to act for themselves.

The word I’ve heard from legislators of both parties is this practice is being fully utilized in these final weeks. The leadership will make public comments where they act as cheerleaders for their colleagues, but behind closed doors, at least in the House, they are kept on a tight leash. There needs to be more of a delegation of authority instead of bottle-necking it with one individual. Did you know you may have been electing someone to serve Rep. Carlson’s wishes and not necessarily yours?

Games and Distractions

Distractions pop up in every session often brought forward by ideology, political ambition, or because an outside special interest group like ALEC drew it up. “Pornographic Vending Machines,” state-owned casinos, guns in schools, and drug testing single mothers in need of temporary assistance are a few examples of distractions that took away from focusing on addressing behavioral health and the budget.

Games are also played to show legislative strength. Sneaking a ban on wind farms for two years. Pushing an amendment riddled with conflicts of interest that used 250 nursing students to force a renegotiation in contract. Changing the makeup of the Public Employees and Retirement System through an 80 plus page amendment without a public hearing. All of these are an example of games played to increase the legislature’s role in the state. None of them received the standalone public hearing they deserved. There are many more examples. All of them took time once exposed and prolonged the session.

Conclusion

The Legislature is still in session because of legislative mismanagement. A recurrence of sessions past. The early determination to stay focused on the real challenges before them often wane into power hungry motives in the isolated atmosphere of the legislative session. Frustrations that have boiled over for the year and a half they’re not in session must go addressed no matter how petty. They have to cram vendettas into 80 days.

It is a shame that it is a handful of legislative members that bring the process to a crawl. Others like Judy Lee, Dave Oehlke, Tim Mathern, and Jim Dotzenrod in the Senate, and Dick Anderson, Andy Maragos, Kathy Hogan, and Rick Holman among many, many others are out there working their asses off. They have a family and other careers to get back to. However, until someone stands up to the leadership elected among themselves and says we can manage this process better, expect to see a continuation of these drawn legislative sessions.

Has the Legislature Done Enough to Prevent Another Pipeline Protest? PODCAST

Tim Purdon

Over the weekend, I visited with former U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon about the state’s process to pipeline siting in North Dakota. Specifically, we focused on the Dakota Access Pipeline siting and protest. Purdon is now a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP and Co-Chair of American Indian Law and Policy Group. Earlier in April, he delivered a speech about this subject that caught my attention. So I picked up the phone and called him. You can listen to the audio above.

I wanted us to focus on the process of consultation. To be clear, this wasn’t about whether or not a person supported this specific pipeline project or the protest. However, in my opinion, this project revealed areas in which the state can make improvements in its process. Specifically, improvements when it comes to working with our sovereign tribal neighbors.

So why are we talking about this now? After all, the local protest has been resolved thanks to the actions of Governor Burgum. In all honesty, I think the way Burgum handled the situation has been the highlight of his young tenure. With that said, I haven’t seen anything productive accomplished in the Legislature to prevent a situation like this from happening again. Instead, they’ve focused their time and energy on reacting at the back end after a protest has started. There is still time. Why not take the time to review the process, attempt to heal the strained relationship with the tribes, keep our law enforcement out of harms way in the first place, and find a common sense approach to move our natural resources while avoiding this in the future?