In the seventh chapter of Genesis, we read, “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” Although not quite of biblical proportions, that description of the Great Flood reminds me a little of what happened with bill introductions last Friday.
It was the final day for unlimited bill introduction, and legislators rose to the challenge by dropping more than 100 additional bills into the hopper. We have three more days to bring in proposed legislation. Some of the bills introduced on Friday are merely placeholders, such as SB132 which reads, “In case a title affecting education is needed to accommodate the legislative process, this bill is being introduced to accomplish that purpose.” Although this has become standard practice in the past few years, I believe it does nothing to promote public confidence in the legislative process.
One of the pieces of legislation I have been working on over the past few months involves potential county exposure for costs of a natural disaster or emergency. This is prompted in part by concerns over potential pipeline protests like we saw in North Dakota. However, it may also come into play if there is a natural disaster and FEMA response is limited. Current law states that if there is an event of disaster, war, act of terrorism, or emergency that is beyond local government capability, the governor may assume control over emergency management functions. If this happens, the county is liable for emergency costs equal to two mills of assessed valuation, plus forty percent of the additional costs beyond that. In District 24, counties would have to come up with anywhere between $1.1 million and $3 million, plus the extra forty percent of costs.The counties are concerned about the potential of this to bankrupt them, so they are asking for legislation to limit their exposure to one-half mill.
Several other bills are aimed at helping counties meet various expenses, such as SB65 giving counties authority to assess a half-cent sales tax to pay for courthouses, jails, and other county buildings, and SB106 to allow counties to charge a bed, board, booze and amusement tax to pay for law enforcement costs. A third bill, SB103, would direct 25 percent of leftover money at the end of the state fiscal year into the bridge improvement grant fund to help counties pay for local bridge projects.