The initial 80-day legislative session of 2017 comes to a close on April 28.

Devils Lake High School hosted a legislative forum Saturday morning to facilitate a discussion about bills that are currently before the Legislature, as well as upcoming issues that deal with everything from hunting rules to funding for the state’s tobacco prevention agency.

Representatives Dennis Johnson from Devils Lake and Greg Westlind from Cando joined state senator Dave Oehlke to address the crowd of about 50, and Johnson took the floor first, discussing a busy session featuring 60 bills that are currently circulating in the house.

Westlind took the stage next, describing the daunting task that he has faced as a freshman representative learning the ropes.

“If I would have studied this hard in high school, I’d have had a 4.0 average,” Westlind said.

The tobacco program was one area Westlind touched on during his presentation, which was a topic of concern for those in attendance. He said that he supported a raise in the legal smoking age to 19 in order to curb smoking at high schools, though he had no easy answers for the future of the tobacco cessation program.

Oehlke also mentioned the proposed tobacco prevention cuts, saying that efforts are being undertaken to ensure funding of the tobacco cessation program on a local level.

One of the problems that tobacco prevention and other programs face is the ongoing budget problems that North Dakota legislators continue to wrangle with.

Oehlke told the crowd that the state would be “$86M in the hole by July 31” if no cuts were made.

Westlind said that one proposal to open up a new revenue stream, a nursing home tax, was quickly defeated.

“That got killed handily,” Westlind said. “They called it ‘the tax on old people.’”

Another issue that Westlind touched on was a proposed hike in the speed limit on many North Dakota highways to 80 mph.

He said that after studying the issue, he decided to vote against it, citing a lack of economic value and an increase in fatalities by eight percent in South Dakota after they adopted the 80 mph speed limit.

Oehlke went into some detail about hunting issues across the state, mentioning ongoing private property issues and discussing the viability of widespread crossbow hunting during bow season. Because crossbows are more deadly, Oehlke said, heavier use could lead to low deer counts and license lotteries.

He also said that exemptions for those with physical issues remain valid, though a method by which to determine how the exemptions may be doled out was not discussed in detail.

The Dakota Access pipeline protest was also brought up at the forum, and Oehlke said that the cost to North Dakota so far is “over $20M now.” He mentioned the lack of federal action to reimburse the cost of the management of the protest that has burdened an already stressed state budget.

“We don’t know if we’re going to get that back,” Oehlke said.

The initial 80-day legislative session of 2017 comes to a close on April 28.