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Senate votes to bring back resolution on higher ed board

BISMARCK -- Voters may still be able to decide whether the State Board of Higher Education should be replaced by a new full-time, three-member commission.

The Senate voted 25-20 Friday to bring back House Concurrent Resolution 3047 after it failed 24-23 in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. A second attempt to reconsider the vote failed late Thursday by a 24-22 vote.

Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Bismarck, originally asked to reconsider the resolution Thursday and made a successful attempt Friday.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, immediately jumped up to move onto another bill. The resolution will now sit on the Senate calendar and will be debated another day.

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said Friday the Senate should not reconsider the resolution and stir up more debate since there are so many other issues that need to be taken care of.

Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, said the Legislature is approving too many resolutions, which may create a negative bias toward all the measures on the ballot.

"It will look to the public like rearranging of furniture but not a solution to the current turmoil in higher education," he said.

Student loans

Student loans may be cheaper and easier to pay off if Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs off on a bill passed Friday.

The House passed Senate Bill 2361 by a 91-1 vote. The bill directs the Bank of North Dakota to develop a student loan consolidation program where the bank may refinance state, federal and other school loans.

The bill specifically addresses licensed physicians residing in a North Dakota community with fewer than 4,500 people, but it also carries a provision allowing the bank to expand the consolidation program to serve other individuals.

According to the Project on Student Debt, 83 percent of North Dakota students graduate with debt, carrying an average of $27,425 -- the 13th highest average debt in the country.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill Thursday.

Initiated measures

Voters will decide whether committees initiating a measure for a statewide vote should have more time to submit the petitions and challenge the secretary of state's decision if the petition is denied.

The Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 3034 on Friday, with the House agreeing to the Senate's changes to the resolution.

The issue will be put to a statewide vote in 2014 since it would change the state constitution. If passed by the voters, the new law will take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

The resolution would change the filing deadlines for the submission of an initiated measure from 90 days to 120 days before a statewide election, providing more time for the secretary of state's office to determine if an initiated measure has enough valid signatures and should be placed on the ballot.

Currently, all decisions by the secretary of state in the petition process are subject to review by the North Dakota Supreme Court.

If the court does not weigh in, and a petitioning committee wants it to, the resolution says the committee will have to submit its appeal to the Supreme Court no later than 75 days before the election.

The change would ensure that the Supreme Court has the time to review initiated measures to determine whether the secretary of state made the right decision and whether the measure is constitutional.

Medical amnesty

House lawmakers killed a bill late Friday that would have provided immunity from criminal charges if an individual was a minor, or reported a minor as having a drug or alcohol overdose.

House Bill 1412 failed 49-34.

The bill said an individual would be immune from criminal prosecution if law enforcement or emergency medical services were contacted and informed that an individual was in need of medical assistance due to alcohol or drug consumption.

The individual would receive immunity if he or she remained on the scene until assistance arrived and cooperated with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on the scene to provide information for medical attention, or was the individual in need of medical assistance.

The bill originally asked to provide immunity for just alcohol offenses. The Senate added immunity for drug possession.

Many were concerned adding immunity for drug possession would create a loophole and increase drug use.

The bill specifically said a person acting in good faith would not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance if evidence for the charge was acquired as a result of the individual seeking medical assistance.