A legislative forum was held in Bowman thanks to the Bowman County Farm Bureau.
By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor
A legislative forum was held in Bowman thanks to the Bowman County Farm Bureau. While on crossover, legislators from District 39—which covers Slope County— gathered at Bowman City Hall on Sunday, Feb. 26 to talk about the session and answer questions from their constituents.
Reps. Denton Zubke, and Keith Kempenich, along with Sen. Bill Bowman stayed and talked with the crowd of about 20 people for an hour and a half, with some one-on-one conversations before and after the scheduled event.
Bowman opened up the session and described the 65th legislative session with one word, cut.
“Your revenues are a problem, and you have to have a balanced budget, you have a responsibility, whether you like it or not, to cut, unless you want to lead the charge for taxes,” he said. “So we have to try and get the very best budget we can get with the dollars we have.”
After Bowman’s introduction and analysis of the state of the session to date, he segued into introductions of Zubke and Kempenich.
Both Zubke and Kempenich gave their two cents on the budget balancing act they will face in the coming weeks.
According to Kempenich, the government is still looking at an estimated amount of $512 million to balance the budget.
“This thing is a budget year…policy drives money you know, money drives policy,” Kempenich said. “Most year’s your dealing with reductions and increases, this year there actually is reductions in this bienniums budget.”
Kempenich also noted that while there aren’t many increases percentage wise, there are areas that will get a boost just to cover the cost of operating, something he called the cost to continue.
What they don’t want is a repeat of last year, with allotments and everything like that, Kempenich said.
Much of the forum’s conversation focused on the situation out at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest site.
$33 million have been paid for law enforcement for DAPL. But with court costs, and other costs associated with the protest, that dollar amount could end up being upwards of $40 million, Kempenich said.
A question was asked from the public about increasing the fines for people convicted of crimes related to the protest, suggesting the higher rate could cover costs of the ordeal. But Kempenich said those fines go towards the common schools trust fund, and can’t be redirected.
“In a roundabout way it helps the state, but it really isn’t going to cover any court costs or anything like that,” Kempenich said. “It’s a loser deal from all the way around it.”
All three legislators praised both law enforcement and the new governor for their efforts in dealing with the DAPL situation.
Another hot topic discussed was the topic of property rights and the bill in the legislator regarding private land postings. But the conversation was short as that bill was voted down, with only 17 in support, including a vote from Bowman who co-sponsored the bill.
Gun laws were also part of the conversation during the forum.
An attendee, who identified herself as an educator, asked if the legislators believed that guns should be allowed schools.
Zubke came right out and said he was against it.
“I’m opposed to guns in school,” he said to the crowd.
Kempenich didn’t think a gun should be freely carried throughout the halls and in classrooms, but designating a specific spot in an administrator’s office, for example, might be a better solution
“They should have either a spot in the superintendent’s or principal’s office, some spot where there is the availability to get [a firearm],” he said. “I don’t think somebody should carry a gun in class.”
Bowman didn’t seem to take a stance one way or the other, he just listened to his colleagues and his constituents’ concerns.
Shortly after that conversation, a member of the local law enforcement asked about the constitutional carry legislation that is going through the session. The gentleman that asked the question said that he would support more people carrying because of the time it can take to respond to a situation in rural areas. But he added that he isn’t comfortable with people carrying without any formal training on firearms.
The legislators recognized his concern, and that it was a common concern among the arguments for the bill.
As the forum ended, Bowman wanted to leave the crowd with a little inspiration from his experiences in the past. He had been in the legislature in the early 90s, and the situation was similar, budget wise.
“I was there in ’91 to ’93, and we didn’t have any money. You know what, we survived,” Bowman said. “If we all work together, we’ll get through this little downturn, things will start picking up again, the main goal for me here is not to raise taxes for people who don’t’ have the money to pay for it.”