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Minot legislators talk spending at forum

Only two weeks into the 2021 legislative session, local lawmakers already are giving consideration to how to spend available dollars.

“Coronavirus has dominated every other issue from education to political subdivisions to businesses,” Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, said at a legislative forum Saturday. “I think the biggest issue this session is going to be trying to get things properly balanced in terms of distributing the next round of stimulus dollars that are going to be coming to the state of North Dakota. I didn’t think we did a very good job of getting a lot of the money where it needed to go.

“We had a lot of small businesses, hotels, restaurants, retail that were just shut down and closed and that involves people’s livelihoods,” he added. “We know with President-Elect Biden, that there’s another large round of stimulus dollars coming. I just hope that we’ll focus on getting that money to where it really needs to go.”

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said North Dakota needs to take advantage of federal funds for roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements.

“We have to be positioned to make sure that we are at the forefront of getting those projects under way for North Dakota and securing our typical transportation funds from the federal government and, of course, see what we have from our own funds,” he said. Waiting too long could mean an inability to find the consultants, engineers and construction companies to get the work done, he said.

Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, voiced her support for a plan to use Legacy Fund earnings for a bonding, saying it will allow infrastructure projects to proceed at today’s lower costs.

“I’m anxious to see this one come through and be enacted,” she said.

On the education front, Rep. Bob Paulson, R-Minot, highlighted a bill that would use $12 million in COVID-19 relief dollars to provide financial support to eligible families for qualified educational expenses related to distance learning during the pandemic. Senate Bill 2176, which will be heard in committee Wednesday, provides reimbursement up to $2,500 to a family with an individual income less than $50,000 or dual-parent income less than $68,000.

Paulson also has a bill being written that will allow parents to co-op with other parents to school their children if virtual learning doesn’t work for them.

Krebsbach said North Dakota has been a leader in its virtual offerings and session adaptations in response to COVID-19.

“Other states are still scrambling. Some aren’t even meeting. So we can be very proud of what we can be doing in North Dakota,” she said.

Legislative hearings are live streamed at legis.nd.gov, and residents who wish to submit testimony can do so until an hour before the hearing. Anyone wishing to address a committee hearing virtually needs to make a request in advance. Testimony is allowed in person but attendance at hearings is limited.

Legislators listed email as the most effective way for constituents to reach them. Personal emails are read and responded to, while form-letter emails sent at the direction of interest groups are likely to get little or no attention, local legislators said. People should identify themselves, the issue and the bill number to aid legislators in following up.

“The tone of the letter is important,” Dan Ruby said. “If you really want to convince the legislator to consider your point of view, keep it civil.”

Legislator emails can be found on the legislative website.

The next virtual legislative forum is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 30. Log-in information will be available on the Minot Area Chamber EDC Facebook page or by calling 852-6000.

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