- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Lawmakers settled in for North Dakota’s 65th legislative session at the state Capitol in Bismarck last week, highlighted by Gov. Doug Burgum’s vision for the state. Here’s a sampling of some goings-on as the biennial session gets going in earnest:

70-DAY SESSION

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, of Fargo, and his Republican Senate counterpart, Rich Wardner of Dickinson, said they want to finish the Legislative session in 70 days, even less than the 80 days allowed by law for legislators to finish their work.

The majority leaders, who control the flow of bills, said they want to leave 10 days on the books as a cushion in case they have to reconvene to handle emergency budget issues, or make any changes in state law to reflect what the new Trump administration may do after lawmakers adjourn.

The Republican-led Legislature took all 80 days to finish in 2013. In 2015, the Legislature took 78 days after spending a record amount of cash but leaving unresolved a measure affecting public employee benefits.

The Legislature later came back for two days to resolve the issue.

Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple in August called a three-day special session to address a budget shortfall due to low oil and farm commodity prices.

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BASTIAT CAUCUS

In conservative North Dakota where the Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses, Rep. Rick Becker relishes being redder than red. He says he’s attracting even more likeminded House members to his so-called Bastiat Caucus.

The Bismarck plastic surgeon, commercial real estate developer and former gubernatorial candidate said the caucus, named after French political philosopher Frederic Bastiat, has grown from a handful in the 2013 Legislature to more than two dozen now.

Becker said the conservative group “believes in limited government and free markets” and meets regularly to push conservative principles and privacy rights. Among the measures Becker intends to introduce this session is a proposal to allow citizens the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

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BURGUM’S ATTIRE

Gov. Burgum may not yet be comfortable as the state’s chief executive, but it’s not because of his clothes.

Burgum’s preference for jeans and sweaters has spurred much grumbling at the Capitol among many male lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, who wear suit and tie while the Legislature is in session.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford has followed his boss’s lead and is often seen in similar attire.

Burgum, at his inauguration last week, also wore jeans, when other governors in recent years donned tuxedos or a suit.

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THE SINGING JANITOR

North Dakota’s Capitol will be far less cheery and likely a little less shiny because Mike “The Singing Janitor” Schmidt has taken a new maintenance job in Devils Lake, his hometown.

Blessed with a beautiful baritone that often boomed through the halls of the Capitol, a constant smile and a fastidious approach to custodial work, Schmidt, 63, was overwhelmed with cards and well-wishes Friday by lawmakers and employees at the Capitol. Even Gov. Burgum took the time to personally thank him for a job well done Friday, Schmidt said.

“We’re really going to miss Mike, and his singing - he’s got a wonderful voice,” said Pam Sharp, Office of Management and Budget director and Schmidt’s boss. “He always is so happy and uplifting and does such a fine job.”

More than 2,000 people work at the Capitol and Sharp and others said Schmidt knows each one of them by name.

“I probably do,” Schmidt said. “I have made so many friends in my six years here it’s unbelievable.”

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