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Dems create plan to restore funding for oil-impacted areas

BISMARCK -- Democratic lawmakers have proposed a plan to restore infrastructure funding to oil-impacted counties after a Senate committee stripped a bill of nearly $300 million mainly designated for western North Dakota.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said Thursday during a news conference that she voted for the amendments to House Bill 1358 on April 5, with the promise that the funding would be restored in other department budgets.

"Now there is no agreement among members of the majority party and subcommittees are not taking care of the needs," she said.

The Democrats' plan simply will be to offer floor amendments to the bill when it comes up for a full Senate vote.

Triplett said she'll ask to restore all of the nearly $300 million. If that fails, Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, will try to restore the $130 million for road funding.

Finally, Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, will ask for $16 million to be included in the Department of Human Services budget, House Bill 1012, for grants to critical access hospitals and nursing homes.

The Democrats were unsuccessful in their first attempt to restore all the funding in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Triplett said she will offer the amendment again on the Senate floor when the bill is up for a vote.

The bill, as it was originally introduced, did not contain most of the funding lawmakers are asking to restore. The original proposal included only $6 million for emergency medical service and fire protection district funding.

The argument is whether the funding should be included in one budget or in multiple bills.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, chairs the Finance and Taxation Committee, which proposed to remove the funding from the bill.

He said during his floor speech April 5, when the amendments were adopted, that the funding should not be in the bill until the proper policy committee deals with it.

"The first job is for those people to do their job and establish a statewide policy," Cook said April 5. "We can get into conference committee when it's done and take a look at what needs are unmet."

Many believed the stripped funding would be included in the Department of Human Services and Department of Health budgets.

Warner, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the DHS budget was passed out of committee Wednesday and did not include any of the funding that was stripped out of HB 1358, which will be passed out of committee today.

Likewise, the Health Department budget does not include any specific funding relative to money that was stripped out, but Sen. Ralph Kilzer, R-Bismarck, said funding for EMS, for instance, has been increased over the years and will provide a large amount of funding for western county needs.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.