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Senate backs early childhood education grants

BISMARCK -- Parents may be able to send their children to school earlier than kindergarten after a Senate vote Tuesday that runs counter to a committee recommendation.

Senate Bill 2229 passed through the chamber with a 35-12 vote.

The bill would appropriate $4.6 million to the Department of Public Instruction to create $100,000 grants to distribute to schools meeting certain criteria for early childhood programs.

The bill was passed to the floor with a do not pass recommendation by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Committee member Sen. Terry Wanzek said early childhood programs are not needed.

"It's my responsibility for my child to show up to school healthy and ready to learn, not the government's responsibility."

The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, passed the bill out of committee unanimously.

"If we kill the bill, you won't provide one ounce of improvement in parenting," Flakoll said. "This is an optional program for parents, they decide to send their children to programs."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, said the education committee recommended the bill unanimously because "evidence across North Dakota continues to point a high quality preschool education can make a difference in the lives of our poorest children," she said.

Rural water

Cities and rural water districts will have to negotiate any annexing issues before receiving state funding to expand or bring water projects to fruition.

Rep. Curt Hofstad, R-Devils Lake, said the House Bill 1440 is, "a solution to a problem that has been growing."

The bill was sent to the Senate with a 83-10 vote.

The issue stems from city populations that continue to increase as a result of the oil boom. As cities grow, they require more land and water resources, most of which is managed by a local rural water districts that are reluctant to negotiate because they are protected by federal law, Hofstad said.

The bill requires a city to give notice to a rural water district of their intent to annex land and requires mediation between party arbitrators to create an agreement before moving forward.

Water taxes

A water use tax on oil companies, which would have generated millions for the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund, failed to pass the House 36-57.

Sponsored by Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, House Bill 1398 was introduced to assess a fee for commercial use. Keiser said the citizens of North Dakota own the water and have to obtain a water permit from the State Water Commission, so oil companies should, too.

Rep. Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare, said this is the worst time for the state to place a fee on water use as Gov. Jack Dalrymple is currently trying to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from imposing a fee on farmers and businesses for access to Missouri River water.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said a key component to the bill is that all revenues are put into the oil impact fund distributed to areas impacted by industry.

"If you want to assist western North Dakota with the number one complaint, which is damage to roads and infrastructure, this is the bill," he said.

Land use

Lawmakers want Gov. Jack Dalrymple to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to return some land managed by the federal agency back to the state.

Under House Bill 1338, Dalrymple will negotiate with the Corps to return excess land 1,854 feet above sea level outside the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation around Lake Sakakawea and excess land outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation around Lake Oahe above 1,620 feet.

The bill was sent to the Senate with a 75-18 vote.