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UND, NDSU research bill fails in the House

Gov. Burgum optimistic about session's progress, looks to build library support

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks during an editorial board meeting at the Bismarck Tribune on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK - Gov. Doug Burgum likens North Dakota's legislative session to a hockey game.

And he's anticipating the second period.

The first-term Republican governor is looking forward to revenue forecasts due in March and may sign his first bills of the 2019 session around the same time.

Lawmakers adjourned Wednesday for crossover, when passed bills change chambers. According to Legislative Council, the House passed 351 of 545 introduced bills, and the Senate passed 269 of 359 bills, among a number of resolutions passed or awaiting action.

"I think we feel very positive about a number of things that have come out as we head into the second period," Burgum said Wednesday.

On his agenda is his $150 million plan for a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library at Medora. Members of the Education and Environment Division of the House Appropriations Committee did not budget for Burgum's proposal, but both sides say the idea could come in on the Senate side.

Because of a rule change in how lawmakers budget appropriations, Burgum's executive budget recommendations must enter legislation through amendments to 2019-21 appropriations based off of 2017-19 budgets.

"I think the library is actually in pretty good shape," Burgum said. "I feel that way because the legislative strategy here is for those in the Legislature that support it understand that we're in the process of building even more national support, lining up national support, getting people to really understand that the presidential library isn't a library."

The governor sees the library as "economic diversification" and a "long-term investment" in a rural area with the tourism draws of Medora.

"I'm confident by the time we get to the end of the session that the key leaders that need to support this in the Legislature will support it," Burgum said.

He's called the library the "flagship" of his nine proposed Legacy Fund projects utilizing $300 million in earnings off the fund, not available until July 2021.

Among the other proposals are a $55 million revolving loan fund for infrastructure — which is "still alive," according to Burgum — and a statewide tracking network for unmanned aerial systems, or essentially air traffic control for drones.

North Dakota could be "an entrepreneurial hotbed" for UAS operations, according to Burgum, noting Israeli-based Elbit Systems' 2015 project, which flew drones for high spectral imaging of cropland in a corridor between Finley and Hillsboro in eastern North Dakota.

"If we lead in the unmanned air traffic control system, it will help us lead in precision agriculture," the governor said. "Those two things are tied together."

Though a lot of movement remains to be seen on the governor's initiatives, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said there's interest, pointing to drone technology as "huge."

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said last week he sees interest from both chambers and parties and the governor's office "to really move some of these big rocks," such as raises for state employees, improving behavioral health services and advancing workforce development.

Pollert said some agency budgets could reach the governor's desk within three weeks. Burgum said he may receive bills as soon as early March.

Legislators convene Wednesday at the state Capitol in Bismarck from their recess, beginning their 34th of up to 80 legislative days.