Legislators update area residents on bills before them, listen to concerns

Louise Oleson, Editor
Tammy Tollefson asks the legislators a question about her unique situation in the Devils Lake Basin.

More than 90 percent of Saturday’s Legislative Update at LRSC was focused on flooding issues around the Lake Region, it may have been more like 99 percent.

District 15 lawmakers Dennis Johnson and Curt Hofstad in the ND?House and Senator Dave Oehlke faced a packed house in the Chautauqua Gallery early Saturday morning to update area residents on bills before them in their respective houses and to listen to concerns from those gathered.

The major topic of the day was Devils Lake flooding.

Johnson led off with his comments, this is his 10th session. He said from his perspective on the committees he serves, so far, things have been slower than the last session. There have been fewer bills introduced so they’ve been catching up this session. He mentioned two of the three bills they have yet to vote on.

The first would change the composition of the soybean board. Since the state has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of acres planted in soybeans, he felt this was probably an important bill to study.

Another he mentioned had to do with agriculture, too, and tiling fields - a common practice elsewhere, but not, yet, used much in North Dakota.

Hofstad led off his comments tackling the Devils Lake flooding issues head on. He talked about the proposed east end outlet and the $120 million in the water commission’s budget that is dedicated to Devils Lake flooding.

He was optimistic, “The governor gets it. So does the state water commissioner. I think we are finally going to see some things happening that will help to neutralize the lake and ultimately begin to draw it down.”

He also mentioned a bill he was keeping an eye on, as a member of the Human Services Committee, HB 1333 subsidizing foster care moves the cost share to the state.

“We’re in a great place in North Dakota because of the health of the economy, the strength of agriculture. Where we talk about the $70 million in oil revenues, remember that $30 billion in revenues for our state comes from agriculture. Agriculture is still number one,” he said.

Then the two representatives fielded a few questions from the floor.

They were asked about township roads, how so many are in such poor shape and there’s no money on the township, county or state level to repair them. Hofstad agreed, he said that even the ER money from Washington, the whole works goes to the DL?Basin, but that it all goes to the main arteries. The money just isn’t there for anything off the main roads.

Johnson mentioned the House was looking at two different anti-bullying bills and commented on how impressed he was with the Devils Lake students who came to testify on that issue. He said they were well behaved and did an excellent job articulating their position. “That’s not easy when you’re speaking to a full house and that room was standing room only,” he said.

Hoftad echoed his positive comments about the students from Devils Lake Central Middle School who had come to visit the capitol. “What a neat deal that was for the students. What a wonderful experience for them to see the process at work, it was a day well spent,” he said.

He encouraged others to bring their students or families to the capitol.

The next question posed to the representatives was about No. 2350 and lowering the match down to seven percent for road funding. The concern is for the counties and townships having safe roads for school buses and residents to use when all budgets are being eaten up by snow removal this winter.

Then it was Senator Dave Oehlke’s turn to give his remarks. He also commented on how proud he was of the Devils Lake students who visited the legislature.

He spoke about having a busy year, how the three of them, himself, Johnson and Hofstad had worked hard at getting the message out about the problems around Devils Lake. Now they have several meetings each week with the governor or the water commission. He said in the Senate conference room the walls are lined with maps and photographs of Devils Lake showing that there is more water than there is land throughout most of the basin.

“Senator Nodlin of Dickinson was talking about their poor roads in the oil fields of the West, but then he looked over at me sheepishly and added, ‘at least we have roads.’ The word is getting out, but more still needs to be done,” he said.

He encouraged voters to write to other members of congress from other districts to let them know what is really happening in the area, especially in the area of flooding.

Hofstad agreed, “I think it could make a difference. There’s nothing like first-hand hearing the stories of those who are suffering. It is quite compelling.”

The legislators were inpressed with the number of people who had come out on a Saturday morning to hear about what is happening in Bismarck.

Besides water and flooding issues they touched upon road funding, anti-bullying, home schooling, pre-K funding, inundated debris removal and measure No. 3.

LRSC president Mike Bower thanked everyone for coming and participating. He said there would be another legislative update planned for a later date and to watch for it.