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New North Dakota legislators to take office Monday

North Dakota Director of Legislative Council John Bjornson said legislators will "hit the ground running" when they convene in January. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Sixteen newly elected North Dakota legislators will take the oath of office Monday, Dec. 3, as the gears get grinding for the state’s 66th Legislative Assembly.

They include 10 new representatives and six new senators, to be sworn in 1 p.m. Monday in the state House and Senate chambers by North Dakota Supreme Court Justices Jon Jensen and Jerod Tufte, respectively.

There are a few other additions. Two appointed lawmakers also join the Legislature for the 2019 session. They include Rep. Clayton Fegley, R-Berthold, who replaces former New Town Rep. Bill Oliver, who resigned Oct. 30.

District 36 Republicans appointed Jay Elkin to replace former Dickinson Sen. Kelly Armstrong, who resigned to take office Jan. 3 as North Dakota’s lone U.S. representative.

Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, also will move from the state House to Senate on Monday, the first day of the Legislature’s three-day organizational session.

The new Legislature will preserve the Republican supermajorities in both chambers, with 37-10 in the Senate and 79-15 in the House. State Democrats picked up a few seats in the general election, though Republicans now control all statewide elected seats with Congressman Kevin Cramer’s defeat of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said the newly elected legislators are fewer than in the past couple sessions. Most of them attended a two-day Legislative Management meeting in mid-November at the state Capitol in Bismarck, when legislative committee chairs presented reports and findings of interim studies.

New lawmakers also will go through training sessions and “a basic type of civics lesson” on Monday, with background on the three branches of government, legislative responsibilities and structure, Bjornson said.

Among the 13 incoming Republicans is Mike Dwyer, who won the Senate seat for District 47 of Bismarck, his first role in elected office.

He attended a recent Senate Republican caucus and some of the Legislative Management meeting. He also said he's been meeting with groups and associations to learn their priorities.

As a longtime lobbyist and attorney for a firm representing water interests, Dwyer said he's familiar with the legislative process and looks forward to serving on the Judiciary Committee.

"It'll be a new challenge," said Dwyer, who indicated he's supportive of a pay raise for state employees, many of whom live in his district.

He also said he sees behavioral health as an important issue. Dwyer said he's familiar with the topic from his wife's work with children and families as a school counselor.

With work from all three branches of government, state lawmakers in 2017 passed a package of bills aimed at reducing recidivism and incarceration related to behavioral health and addiction.

"Doing the right thing for our folks is something that I'm interested in," Dwyer said.

Incoming Rep. Bill Tveit, R-Hazen, whose district extends into northern Morton County, also attended Legislative Management and said he's been reviewing paperwork and preparing for the organizational session.

This isn't his first elected seat nor his first time in the Legislature. Tveit has served as a Mercer County commissioner and was assistant sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate in 2017.

He and Dwyer both pointed to budget issues as key in the upcoming session. Tveit also highlighted likely efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

"I think that'll be in front of us," he said.

Bjornson said from now until the session starts, lawmakers will likely hear from their constituents and draw together ideas on legislation to submit to Legislative Council for work.

"At the session, they hit the ground running," Bjornson said.

The 2019 session begins Jan. 3, limited to 80 days.

Speaking on election night, Nov. 6, Gov. Doug Burgum said he and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford look forward to working with lawmakers in 2019 after crafting his executive budget proposal, due Wednesday to lawmakers.

"We've got a lot of opportunities to continue to make changes to help North Dakota reach its fullest potential and for us really to deliver services in the best possible way, and (we're) excited to do that," the governor said. "We're excited for the Legislature to be back in town."

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