It’s hard to believe the 2021 legislative session is in full swing. Today is our 30th day of the session. This will be my 13th legislative session serving District 29 in the North Dakota Legislature.
This has been a different kind of session than the previous 12 sessions I served in. The way we do things, policy-wise, has changed, mostly a result of coronavirus restrictions. Where we used to engage directly with people, face to face, we now use more social media and online virtual meetings. I am still old school and favor person-to-person engagement and interaction over virtual online meetings. But these virtual meetings are the next best alternative. They allow us to safely do our work for the people of North Dakota. The one downfall to this new way of doing business, in my opinion, is the loss of spontaneous testimony from the average citizen while attending a hearing in person.
I also personally tested positive with the coronavirus early on Jan. 18 after taking a rapid test done at the state Capitol. I had no idea. I ended up quarantining at home for a week and a half. I did not miss any hearings or legislative sessions or votes, as I participated virtually online all the days I was quarantined. So far, I’ve mostly recovered and am doing fairly well.
My purpose and motivation for serving in the North Dakota Legislature continue today. I have a passion for agriculture. I love my job as a fourth generation American and North Dakota farmer! I strive to represent all my constituents and their issues. Still, I feel my contribution to North Dakota policy development is my years of practical experience as a North Dakota farmer! More common sense, experienced farmer voices are in need.
I will share some of the agriculture issues facing us this session.
Many of you have heard a significant bonding bill (House Bill 1431) that is currently working over to the Senate. The total package is $798.5 million, most of which will go to infrastructure needs around the state. Hopefully rural infrastructure (including township roads and bridges) will be a part of this bonding bill. One of the bill's specific parts that should impact the agriculture community is bonding funds to North Dakota State University for a new agriculture products development center. The hope is that with the new agriculture development center, Northern Crops Institute and other entities are in one beautiful new building, and buyers and sellers will have a single place to showcase products that North Dakota farmers and ranchers produce and provide to the world market. While this new building will be on the campus of NDSU, it is not for NDSU. It is for the farmers and ranchers to have a new high tech building for their use and for marketing our production to the world.
The Senate Appropriations committee has acted on the NDSU Extension Service, Northern Crops Institute, Upper
Great Plains Transportation Institute, main research center, branch research centers and agronomy seed farm budgets. We restored the funding cuts to the base budget and added funding for two initiatives: the livestock initiative and big data initiative. We also provided $1.6 million for some capital projects located on branch research centers. These changes now go to the full Senate for approval.
There is also a bill that would transfer the International Business and Trade office from the Department of Commerce to the state Department of Agriculture. This would allow for more direct input with what its purpose is. More than a third of the work the trade office does relates to agriculture.
During the previous interim, legislative management conducted a study about electronic land access and posting. After deliberation in the Senate committee and on the Senate floor, it was decided the study would continue for another biennium. Ultimately, posting land will enter the 21st century.
Other bills like road trains, water code disputes, subsurface water management, and more will have their time in the committee and on the floor. I want to point out that this session is more open than ever before. Every committee meeting and floor session is streamed live and is available to the public. Every person now can watch the legislative process live from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, it is possible to testify to the committee via video conferencing. I believe this is a new age for the Legislature as we jump into the 21st century.
Wanzek serves North Dakota District 29 in the North Dakota Senate and farms in central North Dakota.