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North Dakota Capitol notebook: Medical marijuana hearing set

BISMARCK — A North Dakota House committee will take up the contentious rewrite of the state's new medical marijuana law Tuesday, March 21.

Senate Bill 2344, which amends the Compassionate Care Act that North Dakota voters passed in November through an initiated measure, passed the Senate last month in a 40-6 vote. Lawmakers have said changes were needed to make the law workable, but critics argue the Legislature should honor the will of the people.

The bill will go before the House Human Services Committee 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Committee Chairman Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said lawmakers are working to pass a workable law that meets the public's expectations.

"We've got one shot to do it right," he said.

Wind group launches ad campaign in ND

A wind energy advocacy group is launching an advertising campaign in North Dakota a few weeks after Senate lawmakers considered a moratorium on new wind farms.

American Wind Action announced Friday it will begin airing ads immediately on broadcast television, cable and digital video through the beginning of April. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit described it as a "six-figure" blitz that's aimed at educating the public on "the many social, environmental and economic benefits of wind energy."

A Senate lawmaker, alarmed by the closure of a coal-fired power plant in North Dakota, proposed a two-year moratorium on new wind energy development here. But Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, ultimately asked his colleagues to defeat the moratorium and instead approve a bill requesting a study of the state's "long-term energy plan," which they did last month.

"AWA is launching this significant statewide campaign to make sure the public knows how wind power is bringing cleaner, cheaper, homegrown energy to their communities," Sam Enfield and Jeff Clark, two members of the group's board of directors, said in a joint statement.

Volatility study fails in House

Members of the North Dakota House declined a resolution seeking a study of the state's tax revenue volatility Wednesday.

House Concurrent Resolution 3029, introduced by Rep. Ron Guggisberg, D-Fargo, cited the state budget's reliance on the energy and agriculture industries and a Pew Charitable Trusts study that found North Dakota has the fourth-highest "degree of tax collections volatility" in the country. It also asked to consider expanding Bank of North dakota programs to mitigate those problems.

Proponents cited the recently released forecast that predicts a revenue shortfall in the current and upcoming budget cycles.

"As lawmakers, our ability to curb the pain of these cuts, and ultimately balance the budget in a way that is sustainable for the future, depends on an accurate assessment of current and future revenues," Guggisberg said in a statement released before the vote.

But Rep. Wayne Trottier, R-Northwood, said state lawmakers already understand the volatility of the state's oil and agricultural markets.

House passes DUI bill

A bill seeking to update North Dakota's DUI laws after a U.S. Supreme Court case was approved by the state House Friday.

Senate Bill 2176, introduced by Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, comes after the high court said states cannot levy criminal penalties against suspected drunk drivers who refuse to submit to a warrantless blood test.

"We're changing the implied consent law to reflect that," Armstrong said. "At the end of the day, we're just making sure that our law is the same as what the Supreme Court" said.

The House passed his bill in an 89-3 vote after it sailed through the Senate last month.

A North Dakota man headlined the three consolidated cases that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling, which came in June 2016.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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