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Janell Cole, Published January 06 2009

Session opens at noon today

BISMARCK – The 61st Legislative Assembly begins at noon today as it starts its biennial four-month sprint of budget-writing and law-passing.

Much of the focus this week will be on ceremonial speeches, but that’s not all. Committees will jump right in to holding hearings on many of the more than 300 bills that were pre-filed.

At 1 p.m. today, senators will join House members in the House chamber, where ceremonies begin for the inauguration of newly elected and re-elected statewide office-holders.

The program includes presentation of colors by the National Guard and musical numbers by the Governor’s Band and Governor’s Chorus. This year, those distinctions are held by the Lewis and Clark Berthold High School Senior Band and the Jamestown High School Choir.

After Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle administers the oaths of office, Gov. John Hoeven will give his State of the State address. It is his fifth since taking office Dec. 15, 2000. He was elected in November to an unprecedented third four-year term.

A reception follows in the Capitol’s soaring Memorial Hall, featuring the antique USS North Dakota silver service.

On Wednesday, VandeWalle will give his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of representatives in the House chamber at 1:15 p.m.

At 1:15 Thursday, a tribal chairman from one of the five American Indian tribes in the state will give the Tribal-State Relationship Address to a joint session.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s committees will begin hearing the first bills.

Some of them:

- Higher education: Senate Bill 2076, which deals with the state Board of Higher Education’s authority to approve campus improvements. 9 a.m. Wednesday, Senate Education Committee.

- State employees: Senate Bill 2061, which deals with state government’s Human Resource Management Services’ study of retention of state employees, Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee, 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.

- College recruiting: House Bill 1065, regarding the Department of Commerce’s program to market to out-of-state students, House Education Committee, 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

- Income tax credits: House Bill 1066 and House Bill 1085, regarding income tax credits for manufacturing machinery and equipment, and income tax credits for employment of apprentices and for work-force recruitment, 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

- Workers’ compensation: Three bills, HB 1035-1036-1037, involving the size of Workforce Safety and Insurance reserves, calculation of workers’ compensation premiums and an independent performance evaluation of WSI, will be heard in succession at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Wednesday. Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net