Organizational session starts Monday

New legislators preparing for new experiences at Capitol

North Dakota legislators will be gathering in Bismarck next week to organize and receive the governor’s budget recommendations ahead of the start of the 2019 session on Jan. 3.

While all lawmakers have been preparing for the organizational session set for next Monday through Wednes day, Minot’s newest legislators say they particularly have been working hard to get up to speed. Their past few weeks have been busy researching issues, meeting people, attending meetings, coordinating schedules and getting living arrangements in Bismarck squared away.

“I am in the study-and-learn mode right now. I feel like I have a lot to learn,” said Jeff Hoverson, newly elected to the House from District 3.

A Minot pastor, Hoverson said he’s been praying and reading the North Dakota Constitution as a start in preparing himself. In addition, he and District 3’s other new House member, Bob Paulson, and District 5’s new House member, Jay Fisher, joined a number of legislators who attended a pre-session that included a presentation on the work of interim committees.

Although the two-day crash course was overwhelming, Hoverson said he expects to have the broad overview of the legislative process nailed down by December. Once he’s assigned to committees, he plans to focus his research on those specific areas.

“I want to do well with whatever I am doing and not try to be the expert on everything. Whatever I am assigned to, I just want to do it well,” he said. “By the time I get there in January, then I really want to have studied and be good at those areas and be good at ‘Minot.'”

Minot’s new legislators each say they want to be effective advocates for Minot, and they’ve been attending meetings and hearing from city leaders to get a handle on that aspect of their representation. In District 3, “Minot” means the entire district, including Surrey and Nedrose Township, Hoverson said.

Like many legislators who juggle full-time jobs back home while serving in Bismarck, Hoverson said his church congregation and family will continue to be priorities as he intends to maintain those strong community ties while he’s away.

Fisher, who retired as director of the North Central Research Extension Center, is familiar with appearing before legislative committees and working through the public funding process.

“I really look forward to seeing it from the other side of the table,” Fisher said.

During the campaign, he spoke with a constituent who tasked this generation with building on the work of previous generations in advancing schools and infrastructure. It put the legislative session in perspective for him, he said.

“Now it’s my turn to secure that for all of our citizens. It’s a real opportunity to serve,” he said.

Fisher also expects to rely on the veteran members of Minot’s legislative delegation and looks forward to working with them on Minot’s behalf.

“We have a lot of infrastructure that needs rebuilding so our city and this whole region as a trade area can continue to move forward, advance our economic ability to continue to grow and bring more dollars into the coffers through agriculture, energy and all the aspects of the businesses we have in our region,” he said.

Paulson, who brings the experience of a long military career to his new post, knows he has extra work to do as a legislative newcomer in educating himself.

“I am the new guy so I am going to listen and work hard,” Paulson said. “I know I will have a lot of reading to do.”

On Dec. 5, Gov. Doug Burgum will deliver his budget message at 10 a.m. in the House chamber. The address typically has been livestreamed for the public. The legislative Budget Section later will meet to hear the economic forecast from Moody’s Analytics and receive more details about the governor’s budget recommendations.

Burgum had directed agencies last April to plan for 5 to 10 percent budget cuts.

“While we have reasons to be cautiously optimistic, our modest projected growth won’t be enough to bring general fund revenues in line with ongoing expenditures. Without significant change, our budget will remain structurally imbalanced,” Burgum said at the time.

Paulson said he’s hoping for a better revenue forecast than last session but believes the governor is wise in taking a conservative approach.

“I do think it’s a good starting point. We are seeing in recent days a pretty significant downturn in oil prices once again. With trade negotiations going on, affecting the agricultural industry, there are certainly some pressures on our state so we need to continue to be responsible as we move forward,” he said.

In anticipating the governor’s message, Paulson expects Burgum won’t stray from the course he’s already set or the initiatives he’s proposed.

“I think that he’s been pretty open about what his priorities are so I personally don’t expect any surprises,” he said.

“Hopefully, it’s not going to surprise anybody what my priorities are,” he added. “If you look at the Republican Party platform, that’s what you see me aligned with.”

Hoverson said he ran on a limited spending platform so he would be open to consider any recommendations of the governor to reduce the budget.

Fisher said he can’t comment until hearing what the governor has to say, but he’s eager to find out what the plans are for agriculture and infrastructure in the state.