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Number of North Dakota bills passed goes up

BISMARCK – A soaring symbol of the strong ties between the United States and Canada is showing signs of weakness, and North Dakota lawmakers approved money this week to demolish it.

The state Parks and Recreation Department’s budget for 2015-17 includes $200,000 to raze the crumbling concrete Peace Tower at the International Peace Garden on the border north of Dunseith in north-central North Dakota.

While such costs are normally shared by the two nations, North Dakota will foot the entire bill for the demolition, said Sen. Ronald Sorvaag, R-Fargo.

“Hopefully something can be equalized in the future,” he said.

“We felt it was too important of a safety issue to wait for the funding to come from the other side,” added Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot.

Completed in 1983, the Peace Tower consists of four concrete columns – two on each side of the border – standing 120 feet tall and weighing a total of 22 tons.

The columns symbolize the four corners of the Earth from which immigrants came to the two countries in the 1800s and 1900s.

Krebsbach said conversations are under way to replace the structure, with costs to be shared by both countries.

“That Peace Tower is an icon. It is a strong symbol for the Peace Garden,” she said.

More bills passed

Although they left the Capitol without sending their final bill to the governor’s desk, state lawmakers passed plenty of legislation during their 78-day session that ended in unusual fashion Wednesday.

The Legislature approved 533 of the 854 bills introduced, Legislative Council Director Jim Smith said.

That’s a slight increase over the 505 bills that passed in 2013 and the 514 bills that passed in 2011, sessions that saw 842 and 841 bills introduced, respectively.

It’s far short of the 630 bills that cleared both the House and Senate in 2009, when 1,021 bills were introduced.

This session’s total could still climb by one if lawmakers are called back into session and break their deadlock on Senate Bill 2022, the budget for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System and the state Retirement and Investment Office. They adjourned Wednesday without taking final action on the bill.

Lobbyist numbers down

Meanwhile, the number of lobbyists who registered for the 2014-15 legislative session cycle could end up being the lowest since the state’s current oil boom began.

According to Secretary of State Al Jaeger, 550 lobbyists representing 948 organizations had registered for the current cycle as of Wednesday.

The cycle runs from July 1 to June 30, and with the session over, it’s unlikely the lobbyist count will jump significantly in the final two months.

There were 574 registered lobbyists representing 942 organizations during the 2012-13 cycle, 555 lobbyists representing 890 organizations during the 2010-11 cycle and 591 lobbyists representing 963 organizations during the 2008-09 cycle.

The Legislature meets in regular session for a maximum of 80 days every two years.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.