- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Minot Daily News, Minot, March 3, 2015

Orders before constituents

President Barack Obama can provide no scientifically based specific reason for vetoing a bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline - but he has killed the measure anyway.

It is not that Obama has not used the full power of the federal government in an attempt to justify his opposition to the pipeline. He has. But during his six-year presidency, no study has concluded Keystone XL would pose a concrete danger to the environment or public safety.

Obama insists more studies are needed.

That is rubbish, and the president knows it. His opposition to the pipeline is purely political. Never mind the very real consequences of not building it. They include depriving Americans of oil from a reliable ally, Canada, as well as encouraging that country to sell the oil abroad, possibly to China.

Both houses of Congress have approved legislation requiring Obama to permit construction of Keystone XL. But following through on a threat he made weeks ago, the president vetoed the bill.

Though both the House, by a 270-152 vote, and the Senate, by 62-36, passed the measure by wide margins, neither was by the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Why? Allowing construction of the pipeline seems almost self-evidently a good idea.

In the Senate, every vote against the pipeline came from a Democrat. In the House, all but one of the nay votes were from Democrats. Clearly, “party discipline” - doing what Democrat leaders say - still is decisive.

What about doing the right thing for one’s constituents? Obviously, that is not as important as following orders.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, March 1, 2015

Lawmakers should continue efficient effort

So far the legislative session has been efficient, with lawmakers reaching crossover with a day to spare. They have completed their work despite a big cloud (uncertain oil prices) hanging over them.

The biggest accomplishment during the first half of the session was approval of surge funding. Senate Bill 2103 provides $1.1 billion for infrastructure projects and other needs, mostly in the oil patch. Lawmakers juggled how the funds will be distributed, along with a promise of more funding for communities later in the session. The early approval of the bill will make it possible for projects to start early in the spring or summer.

On Thursday, the House approved a funding formula bill that’s disappointing to many in the oil patch. House Bill 1176 would provide 30 percent of oil and gas gross production tax revenues to local communities and schools, an increase of 5 percentage points over the present 25 percent share. The remaining dollars go to the state. The bill had called for increasing the share to 60 percent for two years.

The Senate approved expanding early childhood education, with Senate Bill 2151 providing $6 million to educate as many as 6,000 preschool children. The bill will likely face a tougher time in the House, but it deserves approval.

Gun bills had mixed luck in the House: HB1195 to allow someone in schools to carry a gun passed; HB1241 to allow concealed weapons in churches and other public places under certain circumstances passed; and HB1157 to allow concealed carry in the Capitol under certain conditions failed. House bills 1195 and 1241 now go to the Senate.

Probably the most controversial bill of the first half of the session was House Bill 1461, which would have eliminated Common Core. Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, conducted a hearing on the measure in a packed committee room. Feelings were strong on both sides and the hearing earned praise for how it was handled. The bill was rejected, and that was the correct result.

An effort to build a new governor’s residence failed, with legislators concerned about spending the money with the uncertain budget outlook.

The second half of the session will likely prove more challenging. Lawmakers will get a better idea in mid-March of how big a cloud is hanging over them when consultants provide an updated financial outlook. This will help determine how much money will be spent and how it will be allocated.

Higher education, K-12 funding, property tax reform, expansion of the homestead tax credit, building projects for the university system and income tax relief are among the measures to be decided. There should be enough money to meet North Dakota’s needs and provide some tax relief. The Legislature also has a record of leaving enough money in reserve. What needs to be avoided are the last-minute agreements reached after marathon sessions.

It’s normal for the big money bills to be decided in the final days of the session and there’s no reason for this Legislature to be different. But it should be.

Lawmakers from both parties worked well together in putting together the surge bill. The same type of cooperation is needed through the remainder of the session. If done right, the Legislature will complete its work with a few days left to use in case of an emergency. The bills will be done in an orderly manner and there will be no rush to judgment.

We have confidence this can be achieved.

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