The Fighting Sioux nickname is not the only thing on North Dakota lawmakers' plates during a special session this week, with flooding and housing also on the agenda.
State lawmakers convene in Bismarck starting Monday for at least a week to pick up where they left off when the regular session concluded in the spring. While much attention has been focused on a bill to repeal a law allowing for the University of North Dakota's controversial sports nickname to be laid to rest, the governor's office and lawmakers have been stressing the session is more than college sports.
Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), said the governor plans to ask the legislature to focus on housing and flood relief and prevention during the session. North Dakota experienced extensive flooding in the Minot and Bismarck areas earlier this year, while in the western part of the state, the oil and gas boom has brought thousands of jobs but the construction industry has not matched pace with housing development.
"He will be asking for the state to assist in the process," Zent told The Huffington Post. "The state has been very involved in the flood and he'll be asking for additional funding."
Zent said the governor's flood program, which he'll formally announce in a speech to the legislature Monday afternoon, will include a focus on the development of low income housing for flood victims in Minot, Bismarck and Mandan. In addition, Zent said that Dalrymple will be asking for the legislature to fund long-term flood prevention along the Red and Missouri Rivers, including moving water out of Devil's Lake in the northeastern part of the state.
State Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor (D-Towner), the likely Democratic nominee for governor against Dalrymple, said among the bills likely to pass is one to have the state pick up the local government contribution to flood relief from this past spring, and to develop greenways along the rivers. This will include purchasing several hundred homes.
"It seems that we are in a new age of the water/river cycle in North Dakota," Taylor said. "We need to give the communities more room with the rivers. It is going to require some money to acquire those properties."
In terms of the oil boom, Zent and Taylor said the session will look to fund the development of affordable housing in the western part of the state, as well as market-rate housing. Taylor said the legislature will also look at the needs of the communities for the influx of residents, including the development of schools, streets, sewer systems and fire departments. Taylor said the legislature will look to boost the oil impact fund, which helps support new development in the oil-rich part of the state. The two-year state budget set aside $150 million for the fund, half of which has been spent. Taylor said the legislature will likely appropriate an additional $50 million to cover the budget through 2013.
"We also want to step up and look at a long-range plan," Taylor said of the oil boom.