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Bill to rein in ND Industrial Commission fails

BISMARCK - House lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected a bill Thursday intended to rein in the North Dakota Industrial Commission when it comes to public policy decisions, with one member warning it could have "dire" consequences for the state-owned ...

BISMARCK – House lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected a bill Thursday intended to rein in the North Dakota Industrial Commission when it comes to public policy decisions, with one member warning it could have “dire” consequences for the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

The version of House Bill 1179 that failed 90-3 was significantly different from the original bill introduced by Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, which would have expanded the regulatory panel from three members to five by adding the state Public Service Commission chairman and the state tax commissioner.

The commission has consisted of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner since it was formed in 1919 to manage the state-owned bank and mill. It has since taken on other regulatory duties, including overseeing the state’s thriving oil and gas industry.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the amended bill that emerged from the House Political Subdivisions Committee with a 7-6 do-pass recommendation aimed to address the concern that the commission was “delving into areas where it was never intended,” citing as an example the “special places” policy approved last March to allow for more public notice and comment on applications to drill for oil and gas on public lands around some of western North Dakota’s most scenic areas.

The amended bill would have forced the commission to go through the same complex administrative rules process as other state agencies – a process that typically takes nine months or more.

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Rep. Matthew Klein, R-Minot, said now isn’t the time to delay commission rules.  

“Yes, some errors have been made, some fines have been reduced and so on, but from an overall view, the rapid development of the oil industry along with a shortage of qualified staff allows things to happen,” he said, adding, “Let’s not jab and delay our Industrial Commission.”

Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said the amended bill had a “totally different purpose” than the original bill and could have “dire” unintended consequences for the state bank’s relationships.

“This absolutely has to be defeated,” he said.

Koppelman said it wasn’t the intent to “delve into the bank’s business and cramp their style,” and he offered to ask the Senate to amend the bill to remove the bank and state mill from the requirement if necessary.

But Rep. Denton Zubke, R-Watford City, said he’s “not much on sending flawed legislation across the hall.”

“I think it reaches into areas it was never intended to reach,” he said of the bill.

 

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