- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Legislature completed work on “emergency” bills prior to its midsession break, spurred by the bitter dispute between Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters and law enforcement. When the session resumes Wednesday after a five-day recess, lawmakers will be faced with hundreds more bills in what’s known as “crossover.” That’s when senators will begin working on House bills, and vice versa.

Here’s a look at some highlights as the Legislature begins its second half:

BUDGET FORECAST

North Dakota lawmakers remain nervous about declining prices for oil and farm commodities, and will delay final work on many major spending bills until new oil tax revenue projections are released later this month.

Lawmakers won’t know how much money they will have to spend until budget analysts and a national economic forecasting firm present a fresh tax collection forecast on March 9.

The new forecast is a normal step in the process of drafting the state’s upcoming two-year budget, which takes effect July 1.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum presented his preferred spending plan to lawmakers last month with deeper cuts than suggested by his GOP predecessor, Jack Dalrymple.

The Republican-led Legislature already had lowered expectations on tax collections below either governor.

Budget Director Pam Sharp said the Legislature at midsession is about $512 million “upside down,” meaning spending has exceeded revenue expectations and lawmakers will have to reconcile the difference in the session’s second half.

Sharp said the Legislature was “upside down” by more than $1 billion at this time last session.

PIPELINE PROTEST LAWS

Burgum signed his first bills as the state’s chief executive last week and all but one was aimed at pipeline protesters.

They included a measure that makes it a crime for adults to wear masks in most cases, and another that increases penalties for rioting. The governor also signed legislation to borrow more money from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to defray law enforcement costs related to the protests. State data show the law enforcement response over the past half-year has cost taxpayers at least $33 million.

Authorities last week cleared a protest camp where opponents of the $3.8 billion pipeline had gathered since last year. More than 750 protesters have been arrested since last August.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

The only non-pipeline protest related bill to reach the governor’s desk was a bipartisan bill to delay the implementation of the voter-approved medical marijuana law.

New rules overseeing pot’s use as a medicine will be under consideration in the House, with more testimony expected alleging lawmakers are changing the intent of the measure against voters’ will.

Burgum signed the bill last week to delay the law until the end of July so that new rules are crafted for the state’s oversight of medicinal pot. The measure was supported by both Republican and Democratic leaders.

The so-called North Dakota Compassionate Care Act won 65 percent voter approval in November. It allows the use of marijuana as medicine for people who suffer from one of several debilitating illnesses.

Provisions that would have allowed growing pot as medicine were taken out of the measure. And patients may only smoke it provided a physician finds that no other form of marijuana would help.

The Senate passed the measure by more than the needed two-thirds majority. The House also must do the same, or the original voter-approved version goes on the books.

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