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AARP Perspective Mixed on 2011 Legislature

Despite contentious debate and a number of bills in opposition to the new federal health care law, the 2011 session of the North Dakota Legislature adjourned on April 28 after passing legislation to begin implementation of federal health reform at the state level.

See Also: Answers to Your Questions About the New Health Care Law

The legislature passed three implementation bills introduced by the North Dakota Insurance Department. All are needed to move implementation forward. One will begin the study necessary to create a state health insurance exchange. The legislature will make further decisions on implementation during a special session in November to address redistricting.

One of AARP’s priority issues during the session was establishment of a housing trust fund to address unmet housing needs across the state. Rather than establishing a trust fund, the legislature created a program to provide developers with incentives to create affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people. The need is especially critical in western North Dakota where individuals and families are being displaced because of increasing costs for housing.

The legislature failed to pass several pieces of legislation which would have helped low-income families.

Legislators defeated several different bills to increase eligibility for the children’s health insurance program and to establish an earned income tax credit, both of which would have helped low- and moderate-income families. North Dakota has the strictest eligibility for the children’s health insurance program of any state in the nation. The current 160% of the federal poverty level compares to a nationwide average of 245%.

Also defeated was a bill which would have helped more people 65 and older or those who are permanently disabled qualify for the homestead tax credit. This credit reduces the assessment on the taxable valuation on the person’s primary residence.

The legislature also failed to adequately fund public guardianship programs that provide free or nominal-cost services for adults with limited resources who lack qualified relatives or others to serve as a guardian. Even though the legislature increased guardianship appropriations from $40,000 to $104,000 for the next two years, the need for a more adequate level of funding was supported by a number of organizations, including AARP.

Finally, the legislature made a slight increase from .69 to .75 to the state match of local mill levies to help fund senior programs. The revenue is used to support a variety of senior services like congregate meal sites.

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