New N.D. laws cover range of subjectsThe New Year brings a handful of new North Dakota laws affecting everything from business paperwork filings to how often train whistles are blown.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — The New Year brings a handful of new North Dakota laws affecting everything from business paperwork filings to how often train whistles are blown.
Starting Friday, North Dakota trains no longer had to sound horns at private railroad crossings unless the Public Service Commission determines a warning is necessary.
North Dakota has about 5,000 railroad crossings, including almost 1,300 private crossings, according to information presented to the 2009 Legislature about the bill.
On Thursday, the commission voted to require warnings at Burlington Northern Santa Fe private crossings in Williston and Mandan, as well as BNSF rural crossings in Crary, Erie, Page and Heimdahl. The railroad had requested the action.
“These are obstructed views,” Commissioner Tony Clark said of the locations, “and if they’re obstructed for the vehicle that may be crossing, it means that they are obstructed for the railroad engineer too.”
North Dakota’s Legislature normally meets only during odd-numbered years. Most of the laws approved by the 2009 Legislature took effect in July or August. However, all or part of fewer than a dozen laws are effective Jan. 1.
Another law effective Friday requires North Dakota businesses with 25 or more employees to submit their unemployment insurance reports electronically, rather than using paper forms.
Before, only businesses with 100 or more workers had been required to file electronically, said Darren Brostrom, the unemployment insurance director at Job Service North Dakota.
Even with the change, more than 18,000 of the 21,000 North Dakota employers who pay unemployment insurance taxes may still file paper reports, Brostrom said.
However, once a company gets used to electronic filing, it is faster and less time-consuming than using paper, he said. Job Service, a state agency, encourages all businesses that pay unemployment insurance taxes to use the paperless method.
“The first time they do it, they enter in the employee’s name, their Social Security number, and the wages,” he said. “And then in subsequent quarters ... that information is already (there) for them.”
Possible Insurance De-partment fines against insurance agents who violate North Dakota laws governing their conduct are increasing Friday from a maximum of $1,000 to $10,000 per incident.
Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said the change was motivated by some high-profile cases that resulted in huge losses for consumers.
In one case, Fargo insurance agent Larry Atkins pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with a Ponzi scheme that cost clients more than $3 million. Atkins was sentenced last February to eight years in prison.
Under the previous law, the Insurance Department could fine Atkins only $1,000, Hamm said.
“Over the last few years, there have been a number of cases ... where consumers have been financially devastated,” Hamm said. “(The new law) gives us more flexibility, a higher potential fine, more of a deterrent effect.”