House Republican defeat of rail safety bill “myopic” and “reeks of partisanship”

House Republican defeat of rail safety bill “myopic” and “reeks of partisanship”

DEM-NPL legislators will lead effort to reconsider legislation, push rail safety study in Public Service Commission budget

(BISMARCK, N.D.) – In response to a largely party line vote Monday in the North Dakota House of Representatives to defeat legislation to improve rail safety, Democratic-NPL legislators announced an effort to reconsider the bill on the House floor. SB 2293, sponsored by Senator George Sinner, D-Fargo, would direct the North Dakota Department of Transportation to report to an interim legislative committee on railroad crossings, emergency response procedures, tank car specifications, and other issues affecting rail safety in North Dakota.

Representative Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks, intends to bring back the legislation for reconsideration during floor session today.

“The House majority’s vote to defeat this modest step towards improving the safety of our rails and communities was extraordinarily myopic,” said Representative Kenton Onstad of Parshall, the House Minority Leader “There is plainly no good reason to reject comprehensive consideration of the risks and needs regarding rail safety in North Dakota. On the other hand, we have every reason to want to improve the safety of our communities. On balance, it’s not even a close call.”

Monday’s 55-34 vote to defeat the rail safety bill was a sharp departure from the bipartisan support the bill previously received throughout the legislative process this session. For instance, the legislation garnered unanimous support when considered by the Senate on February 13 and came to the House floor after receiving a 10 to 2 “do pass” recommendation from the House Political Subdivisions Committee on March 13.

“While we are appreciative of the Republicans who supported this legislation in the Senate and at the committee level in the House, Monday’s floor vote reeks of partisanship,” added Representative Corey Mock, the Dem-NPL Assistant Leader. “If yesterday’s no vote by the majority was about the sponsors of the bill, they certainly picked an unfortunate issue with which to play politics. Rail safety is bigger than personality or partisanship, and I look forward to working with members of the majority in good faith to reconsider this bill during floor session today.”

As originally introduced by Senator Sinner, SB 2293 would have created a rail safety committee to comprehensively identify statewide needs and risks and also sought to establish a rail safety fund financed through existing taxes on diesel fuel. In its amended form, the bill resembled an initiative by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to assess that state’s preparedness for a rail safety incident. Since the results of that assessment were released on January 15, Minnesota lawmakers and Governor Mark Dayton have identified and discussed proposals to improve rail safety and ensure preparedness.

“Being prepared starts with identifying risks and ways to improve,” Senator Sinner said. “This was the only bill that comprehensively dealt with rail safety this session. Even though the legislation was pared back through the amendment process more than I would have liked, it at the very least would serve as a starting point from which to improve rail safety in North Dakota.”

This is not the first time the House majority has defeated efforts to improve rail safety this session. On February 25, the House rejected HB 1357, the so-called “two man crew” bill that would have required at least two individuals on any train operating in North Dakota.

Even if the effort to reconsider SB 2293 is unsuccessful, the Dem-NPL legislators pledged to continue efforts to improve rail safety and emergency preparedness through the appropriations process.

“The need for a rail safety plan won’t go away with the defeat of any given bill,” added Representative Ron Guggisberg, a member of the House Appropriations. “We can learn the hard way or the easy way when it comes to rail safety. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to start to plan.”


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From:: Dem-NPL News

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