North Dakota Legislature: What to watch

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2013 at 9:01 am •  Published: February 24, 2013
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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Legislature is in its last week before its midseason break, and lawmakers are finishing up committee work and considering remaining bills in their respective chambers.

Medicaid, oil taxes and guns are among the issues to be debated this week as the session heads toward crossover.

MEDICAID EXPANSION

North Dakota lawmakers have yet to decide whether to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured North Dakotans.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield and chairman of the Human Services House Human Services Committee, told The Associated Press that the House may give an "up or down" vote this week.

Weisz held an informal meeting last week with fellow lawmakers to discuss expanding the program as part of the federal health care overhaul.

Republicans have two-thirds control in both the North Dakota House and Senate.

"The caucus is divided," he told the AP.

North Dakota's Medicaid program now covers about 65,000 people a month. If the state expands eligibility, another 20,000 people — mostly adults without children — would be added to the program.

Under the new Affordable Care Act, the federal government would cover the full cost of expanding Medicaid through 2016, with the state's contribution rising in stages to 10 percent.

Republicans are skeptical the federal government would continue paying all or most of the cost of health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.

Weisz said it doesn't help that the plan is commonly called "Obamacare."

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OIL TAX RESTRUCTURING

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, is confident that his proposed measure to restructure oil taxes will pass the Senate this week.

The measure is aimed at closing loopholes enjoyed by oil companies in exchange for lower tax rates in North Dakota.

Cook's proposal would cut the exemption for so-called stripper wells that the state Tax Department says is costing North Dakota about $50 million in revenue each year.

Stripper wells are exempt from the state's 6.5 percent extraction tax, but not a 5 percent production tax. Attempts to close the loophole have failed in the past three legislative sessions.

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