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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 15 2013

Snow provides some down time at Capitol

BISMARCK — Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said the weekend’s record-breaking snowstorm that caused the Legislature to postpone action Monday was a chance for lawmakers to get a break.

Wardner, R-Dickinson, was at the Capitol on Monday afternoon along with another 20 lawmakers.

“It’s nice to pause and catch our breath because we have been going hard,” he said. “We have some budget issues that still have to be worked out, but it gives us a chance to look at the differences between the House and Senate.”

Wardner said he thought the Legislature could have gone into a brief session Monday to appoint some committees but realized lawmakers would have just been in the way of snow removal crews.

Monday’s canceled legislative session pushes the last day of the session from May 2 to May 3, but legislative leaders are hoping to break sooner.

Wardner said the time to catch up is needed since many issues are stilling being hashed out, such as property tax relief, water and public employee benefits, which Wardner said the House and Senate are struggling to agree on.

The two chambers are trying to keep their own version, which has them arguing whether the state should put money into the state’s Public Employee’s Retirement System now, or hold off until the 2015 session.

Wardner said the overall session has had many divisive issues that may have taken the focus off some more important issues.

“I was hoping for the session to be smoother, but maybe I was dreaming,” he said.

Across the hall, House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, said this year’s session has just been business as usual, with the Legislature on its way to addressing some of the state’s issues but not addressing them as much as it could.

He said the controversial topics, such as abortion and gun regulation, took hold of the session, “I think we had more pressing issues to work on,” he said, noting water issues are still unsettled right now.

“It’s frustrating sitting and playing games with each other,” he said. “Each chamber wants to put out something meaningful. Let’s do that.”

For instance, the Fargo-Moorhead Red River diversion project is on its way to receiving the state’s $450 million commitment, but Onstad wonders why the Legislature couldn’t send some money early in the session to help combat any flooding this spring.

“Let’s get it out there so we can help out,” he said.

Lawmakers appropriated $720 million in February to send mainly to western North Dakota to help kick- start infrastructure projects.

The session is back in at 8 a.m. today, followed by conference committee work.