Two bills proposed to adjust law passed last winter

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:57 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota’s lawmakers are trying to undo a bill holding back a billion dollars.

Last session, they capped the governor and other state leaders from spending large sums of federal dollars without their consent.

After half a year, they’re looking to loosen the chain.

Two bill drafts have been brought forward to change the law they passed last spring.

If it passes, there are still thresholds to trigger a special session. However, the ceilings get lifted.

Right now, the state’s Emergency Commission is given a $50 million maximum for spending federal aid. This has been holding back more than $1 billion in American Rescue Plan dollars for months.

The recently-passed law was a reaction to the spending of the CARES Act last summer.

“There were a lot of unhappy people. A lot of people thought it was just the Emergency Commission, it was just the Budget Section spending a billion dollars. So that was really our main priority during our most recent legislative session: how do we get the legislature involved when there’s this much federal money coming in?” said Rep. Michael Howe, R-West Fargo.

Lawmakers are being given two options to give the state some leeway: increase the cap to $75 million or make the cap 2% of the General Fund, with the amount fluctuating every year.

While some focus on when to spend, others focus on what to spend it on.

Democrats unveiled their spending plan which includes $507 million for infrastructure, $200 million for child care, and $100 million for paid family leave.

“When we can put this money out there now, we can get paid family leave programs going now, we can get child care so the people can get back to work, we can make sure we’re funding a public health workforce for today’s needs as well as future needs,” said House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo.

However, a Republican-led appropriations committee has already announced plans to meet in the coming weeks to go over allocations.

The federal government has given North Dakota until 2026 to spend the billion.

When it comes to the spending limits, a state committee endorsed the bill with the cut of the General Fund over the set $75 million cap. However, members of that committee said this issue will likely continue to be debated for years to come.

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