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North Dakota Legislature: Lawmakers at halfway mark

BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Legislature finished work on 852 bills last week, and after a break, House members will begin working Wednesday on Senate bills, and vice versa, in what lawmakers call “crossover.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said much work remains but lawmakers have made good progress.

“As we enter the session’s second half, we will continue working with the Legislature to achieve our priorities,” Dalrymple said in a statement.

The Republican governor already has signed into law a that will fast-track $1.1 billion for highways and communities affected by North Dakota’s exploding growth. The record one-time spending bill was rushed through the House and Senate so infrastructure projects begin by spring construction season.

Dalrymple also signed a bill making North Dakota the second state to adopt a law requiring high school students to take the same test that immigrants must pass to become a U.S. citizen. First lady Betsy Dalrymple has promoted the legislation and co-chaired a committee to make it state law.

Related: Legislature should get a say in oil and gas rules

Highlights from the 316 of 474 House bills that have passed:

OIL TAX DISTRIBUTION — The House revamped a formula used to distribute oil and gas production tax revenue, a move aimed at giving more funding to communities to help pay for the consequences of oil development. The legislation is less than what was proposed by Dalrymple and sought by leaders from the region. The bill headed to the Senate is expected to be among the most debated.

GUNS IN SCHOOL — Representatives approved legislation that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to pack guns at schools, if officials allow it. Educators oppose the measure, saying teachers should not take on the role of law enforcement.

PIPELINE OVERSIGHT — North Dakota’s House unanimously voted to strengthen oversight of oil and saltwater pipelines. The legislation, which incorporated parts of four other bills into a single measure, mandates additional monitoring and safeguards such as flow meters and leak detection systems on pipelines that carry oilfield wastewater.

OIL TAX TRIGGER — Representatives extended a tax cut aimed at keeping companies drilling new oil wells when they might otherwise go idle. The cut, which requires oil to fall below $55 a barrel for a month, went into effect this month due to slipping oil prices. The $55 trigger was slated to expire this summer, but the House extended it another two years.

INCOME TAX CUT — The House approved a bill to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent.

In the Senate, 378 bills were introduced and 283 passed, according to the North Dakota Legislative Council. Among the highlights:

CORPORATE FARMING — Hoping to revive the state’s ailing dairy and swine industries, senators passed legislation to exempt those operations from the state’s eight-decades-old anti-corporate farming law. Bill supporters said it would improve farmers’ access to capital and spur the state’s economy. Opponents said the current law blocks unfair competition from big, out-of-state corporations.

GAY DISCRIMINATION — North Dakota’s Senate narrowly approved a bipartisan bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. State law already outlaws discrimination based on such things as race, age, disability and political affiliation. The measure would add prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill has exemptions for religious organizations. Supporters said the legislation protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents from being fired or denied public accommodations.

VETERAN SPOUSES BURIAL — Senators unanimously approved bipartisan legislation that would fund burials for veterans’ spouses at the state-owned cemetery near Mandan. The measure sets aside $160,000 over the next two years to pay for burials for spouses and children of veterans who are younger than 21.

EARLY CHILDHOOD FUNDING — The Senate passed a $6 million measure aimed at educating some of the state’s youngest residents. Senators voted to set the state money aside to expand early childhood education for the 2016-2017 school year. The funding is expected to cover about half the cost of pre-kindergarten education for around 6,000 children, or roughly $1,000 per student.

PROPERTY TAX RELIEF — Senators passed an extension of the state’s 12 percent property tax credit approved last session.

This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.