VOLUME 12, NUMBER 6             FEBRUARY 9 , 2007


To: Members

From: David Crothers, Executive Vice President

There has been a flurry of activity in both houses of the legislature this week as members make every effort to have an early adjournment for “cross-over” next week.  “Cross-over” is the mid-session break when all bills and resolutions must be out of their house of origin.  It means that every bill or resolution introduced in the House of Representatives or the Senate must have had a committee hearing and voted upon on the floor of that body.  Those pieces of legislation that are approved move on to the other house, while those that are defeated are discarded.

“Cross-over” is also when members of the legislature enjoy a two day break from their duties.  The recess is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, February 19th and 20th, however it is likely that they will be done with their responsibilities by this Thursday and have Friday available for recess also.

The telecommunications legislation receiving most of the attention in Bismarck this week was the proposal by Representative Lawrence Klemin (R-Bismarck) to prohibit minors from using wireless devices or cellular phones while they are operating a motor vehicle.  Representative Klemin cited several studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which found that all drivers are four times more likely to have a crash when they use a handheld cell phone, while 16 year-olds were 10 times the risk of older drivers when using the phones.  Similar legislation has been adopted in 13 other States.

 

Opponents of the measure said that it would take away an individual’s personal rights and that other remedies were available to curb the practice, including citing drivers for reckless driving.  The opponents prevailed by a vote of 70-21.


Members of the Association were disappointed this week when it was learned that an amendment had been adopted by an Appropriations Committee subcommittee to modify the Public Service Commission’s appropriations bill.  The amendment will create a $75,000 fund within the PSC to specifically audit telecommunications companies who are eligible telecommunications carriers to ensure that telcos are using the funds as designated.  The Association believes that telcos already demonstrate to a number of entities that the money is used properly and that the PSC has neither the experience, resources or expertise to conduct audits of the companies.  The Association will continue to oppose the measure prior to the full Senate committee adopting the agency’s budget.

The week also saw the defeat of both proposals…Senate Bill 2383 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 4014…to reduce the size of the Public Service Commission from 3 to one commissioner by 2012.  The margin of defeat was 14-32.

If you have any questions, please contact either myself or members of the Associations Legislative Committee. To call your legislator toll free the number is 1-888-635-3447. Bismarck-Mandan residents should call 328-3373. Members of the Legislative Committee can be found at the Association's homepage at www.ndatc.com.

HB 1021- The bill provides authority for the Information Technology Department to increase their ability to borrow money during the biennium. Specifically, it will allow ITD to borrow money from the Bank of North Dakota in the event that e-rate funding is not received from the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Company. The Department would have to receive prior approval from the Emergency Commission before borrowing the money.

Jan. 3 Introduced in House.
Jan. 15 Approprations Committee Hearing.
   


HB 1142- The legislation increases the benchmark for rate deregulation for cooperative and independent telecommunications companies from 8,000 to 18,000 subscriber lines. Currently, all telephone cooperatives and those commercial companies with fewer than 8,000 lines have rate deregulation.

Jan. 4 Introduced in House.
Jan. 15 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass" 13-1.
Jan. 19 House Passed 91-0.
   


HB 1143- This proposal would grant additional authority to the Public Service Commission and give the agency the ability to issue "Suspensions or Modifications" when considering rural exemptions. That expanded authority would be limited to Commission's consideration of independent telephone companies' requests for exemptions from interconnection. Although the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 envisions State Commissions having the ability to grant suspensions or modifications, the North Dakota legislature has never specifically authorized that jurisdiction for them.

Jan. 4 Introduced in House.
Jan. 15 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass" 14-0.
Jan. 19 House Passed 88-3
   


HB 1196- Legislation that will prohibit minors from using wireless devices or cellular phones while they are operating a motor vehicle. There are many variations of this legislation throughout the United States and include a mandate to use "hands-free" devices, complete prohibitions for adults as well as minors and complete bans for minors. Similar legislation has been proposed unsuccessfully in North Dakota in the past.

Jan. 5 Introduced in House.
Feb. 5 Transportation Committee Recommended "Do Not Pass", as Amended, 10-2.
Feb. 7 House Defeated 21-70.
   


HB 1226- A proposal to prevent certain nonprofit organizations from having ownership interests in for-profit organizations that competes with other for-profit companies. The legislation is specifically directed at those non-profits registered with the IRS under Section 501(c) (3), 501(c)(10), 509(a)(1), 509(a)(3), or a trust described in Section 4947 for which a deduction is allow-able under Section 170. The legislation mandates that an entity organized under one of these sections and that directly or indirectly receives Federal, State, or local tax revenues may not have an ownership interest in for-profit companies. Members of the NDATC Legislative Committee reviewed the bill thoroughly and expressed their concerns over any potential impact it may have on any of the entities that telephone cooperatives use to deliver services in North Dakota. Members of the Association were pleased during the bill's committee hearing when its sponsor, George Keiser (R-Bismarck) asked that it be converted into a study resolution.

Jan. 8 Introduced in House. Referred to Political Subdivisions Committee.
Jan. 12 Request Return from Committee.
Jan. 12 Rereferred to Industry, Business and Labor Committee.
Jan.30 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass", as Amended, 12-1.
Feb. 5 House Passed 82-9.
   


HB 1316- Legislation introduced to add additional protection to a consumer's telephone records. The language will make it illegal for someone to attempt to procure another person's telephone records without the permission of the telco's customer. It will also make it illegal to sell or attempt to sell another's telephone records. The proposal seems to be an attempt to avoid the problems that arose during the Hewlett-Packard "pretexting" scandal in California in 2006. Of concern to the Association is language that will impose obligations on telecom companies to develop policies and constraints on the use of customer information. The Association was extremely pleased this week when the sponsor of the bill, Representative Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks) appeared before the Committee and asked that the proposal be converted into a study resolution.

Jan. 8 Introduced in House.
Jan. 30 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass", as Amended, 13-0.
Feb. 5 House Passed 81-9.
   


HCR 3026- A resolution that asks the Legislative Council and members of the legislature to study the appropriateness of implementing fines and other civil penalties for violating North Dakota's One-Call statutes. There has been discussion within the one-call community for many years regarding the inability of anyone to fine violators of the "call before you dig" rules without any resolution of the problem. In fact, members of the One-Call board of directors originally had a bill draft circulating that would have given themselves the ability to issue fines. A further provision made the State responsible for defending the board in courts of law. That idea was not very warmly received.

Jan. 25 Introduced in Senate. Referred to Industry, Business and Labor.
Feb. 8 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass" 12-0.
   


SB 2008- The appropriations bill for the Public Service Commission. The legislation does not envision great changes from their appropriations bill of two years ago, although it provides for a new employee to handle GIS specialist. The bill again asks for approximately $900,000 to pursue a rail rate case on behalf of North Dakotans.

Jan. 3 Introduced in Senate.
Jan. 12 Appropriations Committee Hearing.
   


SB 2169- Legislation advocated by the North Dakota Association of Counties that will begin to assess prepaid wireless phones and VoIP providers for a county's E-911 assessed fee. Additionally, the bill comprehensively revises the relationship between the counties and the Public Service Answering Points (PSAP's), while renaming an existing committee that oversees E-911 best practices. The Association has spent a substantial amount of time negotiating with the counties over the language that would be included within the bill. Earlier drafts included language that would have reduced the amount that telecom companies were able to retain for administration of the monies and a separate proposal to prohibit telcos from charging counties for their work changing the data base. The Association was very pleased that these items were not included in the bill's final version.

Jan. 8 Introduced in Senate.
Feb. 2 Political Subdivisions Committee Recommended "Do Pass, as Amended, 5-0.
Feb. 7 Senate Passed 47-0.
   


SB 2195- Legislation that expands the technologies covered under prohibited practices that telephone solicitors must abide by in North Dakota. The new language extends the prohibitions to those using satellite, VoIP, broadband "PSC" (there is currently a typo in the bill), microwave and other terrestrial phone service. The proposal does not currently add or subtract from the substantive language of the existing statute regulating telephone solicitors.

Jan. 15 Introduced in Senate.
Jan. 25 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Recommended "Do Pass", 7-0.
Jan. 26 Senate Passed 41-0.
Jan. 31 Introduced in Senate. Referred to Industry, Labor Committee.
   


SB 2255- Another "pretexting" piece of legislation that will, if adopted, criminalize the unauthorized or fraudulent procurement of another's telephone records. It also bans the sale and receipt of those same records. The bill imposes far fewer obligations on telecommunications companies than previously introduced legislation addressing the same subject. The Association continues to have a number of concerns and have met with representatives of the Attorney General's office. The Association requested that no greater obligations be imposed on telcos than the already stringent standards imposed by the Federal Communications Commission and existing CPNI rules.

Jan. 15 Introduced in Senate.
Feb. 2 Judiciary Committee Recommended "Do Pass", as Amended, 6-0.
Feb. 7 Senate Passed 47-0.
   


SB 2383- A bill that is a mechanism to implement an accompanying Senate Concurrent Resolution that calls for an amendment to the North Dakota Constitution reducing the size of the Public Service Commission from 3 commissioners to one. The change becomes effective under the legislation on January 1, 2011.

Jan. 22 Introduced in Senate.
Feb. 2 Government and Veterans Affairs Committee Recommended "Do Not Pass" 4-2.
Feb. 6 Senate Defeated 14-32.
   


SB 2409- Legislation that codifies the obligations of wireless companies to disclose a multitude of items to their customers and make those facts available online. It also requires the Public Service Commission to develop rules regulating the form and substance of the contents of the contract between the wireless provider and subscriber. The bill also requires wireless companies to develop maps detailing where wireless coverage is available on a county-by-county basis.

Jan. 22 Introduced in Senate.
Jan. 31 Industry, Business and Labor Committee Hearing.
   


SCR 4014- A resolution that proposes to replace the three-member Public Service Commission with a single public service commissioner and to change the term of office from six to four years. The North Dakota Constitution would have to be amended by the voters in 2008 to make the change.

Jan. 22 Introduced in Senate.
Feb. 2 Government and Veterans Affairs Committee Recommended "Do Not Pass" 6-0.
Feb. 6 Second Reading. Failed to Adopt.