VOLUME 14, NUMBER 2 January 28, 2011
From: David Crothers, Executive Vice President
The Association was extremely pleased this week with the introduction of House Concurrent Resolution 3022 by Representative Craig Headland of Dakota Central, Senator Randy Christmann of West River and Senator Randy Burckhard of SRT Communications. HCR 3022 urges North Dakota’s congressional delegation to work with the Federal Communications Commission to modify their National Broadband Plan to make it less harmful to rural areas of our nation. The current draft of the Plan would severely impact a rural telco’s ability to maintain their networks or to finish building out their facilities to ensure that all rural residents are able to take advantage of the educational, health and economic services currently available.
Separately, the Association testified this week during the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee’s deliberations on the proposal to remove the “sunset date” on the current law allowing for a sales tax exemption on equipment used to build out telecommunications infrastructure. The exemption, which has been in place since July of 2009, was scheduled to phase out on June 30th of this year. Verizon Wireless, other wireless providers, Qwest and Midcontinent all supported removing the “sunset provision” and allowing the exemption to become permanent. Included within the Association’s testimony was a letter from SRT Communications CEO Steve Lysne describing SRT’s build-out scheduled for both the wireline and wireless companies and how valuable the exemption has been in hastening that investment in infrastructure.
Members of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, however, were extremely skeptical about making the tax exemption permanent. One of the big concerns of the Sixty-Second Legislative Assembly has been the great number of entities coming to them with proposals for tax exemptions for their lines of business. The “exemption” vehicle is becoming increasingly unpopular at the Capitol.
The Association was gratified, however, when the committee ultimately voted in a separate meeting to extend the sales tax exemption with another two year sunset date on the measure. If we are ultimately successful with SB 2171 the “sunset” will continue until June 30, 2013.
All of the deadlines for the introduction of both bills and resolutions in both the House of Representatives and Senate have now passed. The only way any further legislation may be introduced is through the “delayed bills committee”, which is comprised of the majority and minority of both chambers. It is quite a rare occurrence. There is a late February deadline, however, for introducing resolutions proposing to change the Constitution of North Dakota and for study resolutions.
The House of Representatives will address 472 bills and 34 resolutions. The Senate saw 368 bills and 19 resolutions introduced. Each of these 893 items will have a committee hearing and vote on the floor prior to a February 25th deadline for “crossover”, in which all bills must have been resolved in their house of orgin.
To call your legislator toll free the number is 1-888-635-3447. Bismarck-Mandan residents should call 328-3373.
HB 1205- Legislation that requires wireless service providers to provide call location information to law enforcement agencies when there is a risk of serious harm or responding to a call for emergency services. Although wireless companies provide this information on a regular basis to law enforcement agencies, this legislation will bring uniformity for both the government and wireless carriers. There is also a provision within the proposal that gives indemnity to wireless companies when they are acting in good faith.
|Jan. 10||Introduced in House.|
|Jan. 20||Political Subdivisions Committee Hearing.|
HCR 3022- A resolution addressing the concerns of rural telecom providers
regarding provisions of the National Broadband Plan. The resolution was introduced by Representative Craig Headland of Dakota Central, Senator Randy Christmann of West River and Senator Randy Burckhard of SRT Communications. The language of the resolution notes the dependence rural residents have on a state-of-the-art telecom network for educational opportunities, rural medicine and access to markets. HCR 3022 ultimately urges the Federal Communications Commission to make “substantive” changes to the National Broadband Plan to avoid hampering future growth in rural areas of our nation. It also encourages the State’s congressional delegation to work with the FCC to modify the current draft of the National Broadband Plan.
|Jan. 24||Introduced in House. Referred to Political Subdivisions Committee.|
SB 2016-This legislation is the appropriations bill for the North Dakota Adjutant General. It also contains the funding for the National Guard and Department of Emergency Services. It was this entity that endorsed the proposal from Flow Mobile in 2009. Of particular interest to the Association is two line items in the appropriation that provide $4.3 million for “radio communications” and $2.1 million for a “state radio tower package”
|Jan. 4||Introduced in Senate.|
Appropriations Committee Hearing.
SB 2036-A bill to allow the Information Technology Department to establish “connections” to for purposes of “health information exchanges” in the State. Currently, ITD can only provide service for specific entities in the State, including state agencies, cities, counties, school districts and other political subdivisions. Their authority to provide telecom is in State law, as well as whom they may provide service to on the network. Any expansion of that authority must be approved by the legislature. The specific language in this legislation provided, “Connect to a wide area network service for health information exchange in accordance with federal requirements for health information exchange.” Members of the Association were extremely concerned over expanding exemptions to the current law and participated in a conference call with the Information Technology Department, Attorney General’s Office and State’s Human Services Department. Dave Dunning of Polar, Evan Hass and Seth Arndorfer from Dakota Carrier Network and Derrick Bulawa represented the independent industry in the State and said that believed the State’s proposal was overreaching and not necessary to achieve the requirements of health information exchanges. Ultimately, ITD and the Attorney General’s office agreed. Lisa Feldner, Chief Information Officer, in the State told the Senate Human Services Committee this week that the legislation was not needed and asked the committee for a “DO Not Pass” recommendation.
|Jan. 4||Introduced in Senate.|
|Jan. 18||Human Services Committee.|
SB 2171-The legislation that removes the “sunset date” from the provision that
exempts telecoms from paying sales and use tax for equipment used in telecommunications infrastructure in North Dakota. As you will recall, the legislature adopted the law in 2009 that gave telcos the sales tax exemption, but the law was to “sunset” on June 30, 2011. The legislation introduced this year takes away the sunset all together. However, the bill was amended during a Senate Finance and Taxation Committee hearing to add a new sunset of June 30, 2013.
|Jan. 11||Introduced in Senate.|
|Jan. 275||Finance and Taxation Committee Hearing.|
SB 2246-A revision to the State’s funding of emergency services which eliminates the necessity for counties to vote on renewing the existing charge every six years. Under the proposal the fee adopted by voters in a county will remain in effect until it is put on the ballot again to increase, decrease or remove the fee. The issue can be voted upon during any general, primary or special election. While the Association’s Legislative Committee has not directed us to take any action on the matter, we will be monitoring the legislation and attending hearings to ensure the failed proposal by the Interim Tax and Finance Committee to eliminate E 911 fees on subscribers bills and to, instead, assess telecommunications companies a gross receipts tax to raise the money does not reappear as an amendment.
|Jan. 19||Introduced in Senate.|
|Jan. 27||Political Subdivisions Committee Hearing.|
SCR 4003-A resolution honoring Northern Tier Network by the legislature’s interim Workforce Management Committee. The resolution notes that the legislature funded Northern Tier in 2007 and expresses the legislature’s support of the “Northern Tier Network Technology Initiative”. The sponsors of the resolution have not attempted to add an appropriation on any of the existing bills and know they do not have the support of the Governor. Both Governor Hoeven and Governor Dalrymple declined to include funding….despite Higher Education’s requests….in the budgets they present to the legislature. Resolutions are also notoriously tricky to defeat because they are most often viewed as harmless pieces that are being forwarded by a member of the legislature. Opposing a resolution, especially one that does not mandate the State to do anything or spend any money, is quite difficult and smacks of meddling. However, Senator Randy Christmann was especially helpful to those that fear the resolution will be used for something more in the future when he asked Higher Education’s chief information officer during an appropriations committee hearing this week whether there was any objection to include the language from the State statute limiting Northern Tier to their “research and education” mission. The witness did not object and said it would be fine if SCR 4003 was amended to include that language. Members of the Association are indebted to Senator Christmann for his advocacy on their behalf.
|Jan. 4||Introduced in Senate.|
|Jan. 20||Appropriations Committee Hearing.|