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North Dakota Senate rejects bill aimed at hiring local for energy projects

The North Dakota Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill aimed at encouraging developers of energy-related projects to hire local.

Senators voted 40-7 along party lines against Senate Bill 2301, with Republicans opposing the measure. The bill would have required developers of projects such as wind farms and oil pipelines to report to the Public Service Commission details about where the workforce they hire resides.

Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, said that while the majority of lawmakers on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee supported the intent of the measure, they objected to the “working details of what this bill would require.”

“We believe the siting law today already does include direct and indirect economic benefits among the factors for us to consider in reviewing applications,” he said. “Senate Bill 2301 seeks to elevate consideration for local workers to a much higher level than your committee deems necessary.”

Republicans were concerned about language in the bill they said would raise developers’ hiring decisions above other issues regulators consider when siting projects, such as environmental impact, he said.

Backers of the bill, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, had indicated they would be OK with striking that part of the proposal and moving forward only with the requirement to report workers’ residency. LIUNA’s Local 563 successfully pushed for a similar reporting requirement in Minnesota and has tried for several years in North Dakota to get the PSC to act.

The union has documented a significant number of out-of-state workers hired to build wind farms in North Dakota, when many of its members have struggled to get hired for the same projects. The Greater North Dakota Chamber felt the bill would have put another burden on businesses.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he felt it’s important to track hiring data.

“I think this is a proper attempt to document when we incent a business and we say, ‘This is going to help our local workers,’” he said. “Let’s just document it and find out if they are local workers or not.”