BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Legislature is slated to tackle some of the weightiest agriculture-related issues of the session as lawmakers enter their first full week after crossover. Among the highlights: corporate farming, beef checkoff and ethics.
Senators are reviewing bills that were approved by the House as the House mulls Senate measures. Some resolutions are still being considered in their respective chambers.
Monday is Day 42.
North Dakota's House is slated to vote this week on a "ham-and-cheese bill" that would exempt pork and dairy operations from the state's eight-decades-old anti-corporate farming law.
The House Agriculture Committee took more than eight hours of testimony of the bill Thursday. The committee voted 8-5 to give the measure a "do-pass" recommendation.
Supporters say the measure is intended to revitalize dairy and swine farms after years of decline. Opponents believe the current law blocks unfair competition for big corporations.
The Republican-led Senate in February voted 27-18 to approve the legislation.
A proposal to double the $1-per-head checkoff that ranchers pay when they sell cattle is the other contentious measure that lawmakers are dealing with this session.
The North Dakota Stockmen's Association wants lawmakers to approve legislation that would increase the checkoff to $2 per head to provide more money for beef research, education and promotion. Ranchers would have the option of asking for a refund of the additional dollar, effectively making participation voluntary.
North Dakota's House last month voted 69-22 to approve the measure. The Senate Agriculture Committee heard testimony on the measure Friday but took no action. It could come before the full Senate this week.
State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt says $1.1 billion in fast-track funding for highways and communities affected by North Dakota's exploding growth is being distributed.
Schmidt says the funding started going out Friday.
The fast-track legislation includes $450 million in funding for state highway projects. It includes $240 million for the 10 biggest oil-producing counties, $112 million for non-oil-producing counties, $100 million for cities in oil-producing counties and $198 million for other cities outside the oil patch.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the bill last month at a ceremony at the state Capitol, calling the bill "a great legislative accomplishment" that had strong bipartisan support.
North Dakota lawmakers will again decide if they want closer oversight of themselves.
House assistant Democratic leader Corey Mock, of Grand Forks, has been pushing since 2011 to establish an ethics commission to investigate alleged acts of wrongdoing by politicians. But legislation to create such commissions was soundly defeated by the Legislature in the past two sessions.
Mock says North Dakota is one of the few states that lack such panels.
Opponents have argued that an ethics commission isn't required because the Legislature already follows high standards of conduct.
Mock now is sponsoring a resolution that would let voters decide whether the state Constitution should be changed to from an ethics panel. The resolution is slated to be considered by the House on Thursday.