Laventure recently sat down with North Dakota State Senator Scott Meyer, Republican from District 18, to discuss the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session.
Laventure: You just got re-elected for the first time. How are you approaching this differently than the first time around?
Senator Meyer: Well, just the institutional knowledge is so valuable because that first session you really don’t know what to expect. This time you come in with some confidence. You know a lot of the people. You just know so much more than a freshman does. It’s just a different feeling.
Laventure: What are the biggest issues facing the state from your standpoint?
Senator Meyer: I think the biggest thing is that people just want to get back to normal. The thing I get the most correspondence on is the mask mandates. You get it from both sides. People want to make sure that our small businesses aren’t dying off because of a lack of support. Unfortunately, lockdowns kind of push that.
We’ve been talking about the budget address from the governor. We have some ideas on how to do some bonding with the legacy fund earnings. In my city, we have some big infrastructure projects that need addressing like the underpass on 42nd Street or the interchange on 47th avenue south.
I have a couple of bills on my own. I have some cleanup on my license and reciprocity bill that I need to address. I have a bill that I am working with the Hospitality Association on regarding hours of operation. I feel like these industries have been kicked in the teeth a little bit over the last nine months. They have lost quite a few hours of operations. We’re just trying to give them another opportunity to try to get people in the door.
Laventure: You see the governor and legislature differing on COVID-19 rules, mandates, and policies. Will the legislature want to curtail some of the power?
Senator Meyer: Yes. There is definitely chatter in the hallways about the separation of powers. There is going to be some interesting discussion. Maybe if the governor is going to extend an order, we [legislators] should be included in that discussion too.
Laventure: What are you seeing as the differences between the House and Senate?
Senator Meyer: That’s an interesting question. The House is the people’s house. There is a different energy. It’s almost like in the House, the loudest voices get the most attention and the most interviews. In the Senate, there isn’t much to say unless there is something important to talk about. I think they both work very well though.
Laventure: Let’s talk a little about the session itself and what it’s going to look like and feel like during the COVID pandemic. From your standpoint, will the ability to stream in and attend virtually be better with this new technology?
Senator Meyer: This is something I have thought about a lot. I don’t think that transparency is bad. When you look at D.C., you see all the action in committee. You never watch them vote on the Senate floor, but you watch what happens in committee.
I still hope that people come to the Capitol to testify so we can ask follow-up questions or chat in the hallways. I appreciate what our staff and the legislative council is doing. They’ve all been working really hard so we can come in on January 5th and hit the ground running.
Laventure: Senator Ray Holmberg tested positive for COVID after the organizational meetings. How are those positive tests going to affect the legislators? Are they going into quarantine?
Senator Meyer: We talked about if we were going to do temperature checks. There were thoughts about two tests a week. There was also discussion around if we wanted people to fill out a self-assessment before coming to the Capitol. If people feel sick, they should just stay at home.
If we [legislators] test positive, we can still do our work. They’re allowing us to take part remotely. The new video boards in both chambers help. Even if you didn’t want to sit in session during the floor session, they’ve given us workspaces around the Capitol.
Laventure: How do you think going to digital-based committee meetings will change your interactions with constituents? Do you see more comments and interactions with greater transparency?
Senator Meyer: I think you will see more interaction on the committee hearings from a district like mine. I think you’ll see a lot more interaction from agencies and county officials across the state.
Laventure: And you might have more trade associations that would normally have to spend a day at the Capitol.
Senator Meyer: Yes. More people involved in the process will help us make better policies.
Laventure: What are the big topics coming out of your district?
Senator Meyer: People still want to see lower property taxes. We are still finding ways like the social services take over from four years ago and Operation Prairie Dog from two years ago. Each of those things is meant to take the burden off of them. Every session I have been in, there has always been a funding mechanism to address it.
Laventure: You have the University of North Dakota in your district. What higher education issues are going to be coming up?
Senator Meyer: From the University of North Dakota, yes, we talked about budgeting. Obviously, there is a push for more money for research. They have some ideas on ways we can use the Legacy Fund.
There are also a couple of building renovations that they want to do. There is a master plan. It’s through President Kennedy and some of his vision. I know they have asked for some capital projects, but we’ll see if we have the money.
Laventure: What will be done to support the UAS industry?
Senator Meyer: The UAS industry is so important to the Grand Forks economy and the state. There has been some money earmarked in the governor’s budget. UAS and Grand Sky is an emerging technology that is vitally important to the diversity of our economy.
It’s so important that we keep growing that industry and recruiting businesses because those businesses bring in talent from out of state who get paid very well, buy houses, bring their families, and settle. They get up to Grand Forks and realize North Dakota is a great place.
Laventure: You’ve had a lot of bills in the past that support veterans in one way or another. Do you have anything in that realm this time around?
Senator Meyer: We need to clean up some language from Senate Bill 2306 last session with the military spouse license with reciprocity.
Additionally, I have been working on a pilot program for a veteran’s treatment court. I have had quite a few meetings trying to find ways to help our veteran community out. That’s probably going to be one of my bigger bills working for veterans.
Laventure: How are politics in the Senate this time around? How important is it still to build the coalition and build those relationships to get things done?
Senator Meyer: It’s vitally important. There are a lot of unique dynamics. It’s also rural, urban, east, west, oil towns, hub cities. It’s almost like sales. You build trust and know that this guy is giving you a straight answer. I might not agree with him but at least I respect him.
Laventure: You’ve taken a look at the governor’s budget and summaries. Do you see any of those proposals being a non-starter? Is the relationship between the legislature and the governor as bad as it sounds?
Senator Meyer: I think there is more animosity in the House than in the Senate. I think that’s because of the District 8 issue and thinking he can appoint a legislator. I really think you’ll see more of an issue over there. The thing I like about our governor is that he is very forward-thinking and thinks outside the box. Just because you’ve done it that way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. That’s how we get good policy.
Laventure: What do the Democrats do functionally with 21 members combined in both houses out of 147? How do you work with them? How do they get things done?
Senator Meyer: I think it’s even more important for them to build relationships. There are things that they may need to put on the back burner to get things done. I look at my housemate Corey Mock. He does a great job with that. He’s built relationships and he’s very well respected in the Capitol. I think what he realizes is that to get some of his projects passed, he needs us.
Joan [Heckaman] is a good leader. I like Joan. She’s got a unique situation because she has to serve in committees in addition to being a leader.
Laventure: How do you see the Bastiat Caucus play in this session?
Senator Meyer: I think they’re going to grow. I think they picked up some seats. Certain legislators got some wins. If they wanted to be the minority party and try to take over that, it would be tough. The House is obviously the home of the Bastiats and you have a couple in the Senate. You don’t see too many issues, but they give an interesting perspective.
Laventure: What’s the best thing about being a Senator from District 18?
Senator Meyer: I just like being a part of the community and talking to people like the mayor or the Chamber or leaders at the Air Force base. I want to be a person that people can trust and they can come to me. They know that when they send me out there they have a guy who is going to work hard and build relationships.
The thing about it is all the relationships that I have built. That’s the best thing. Representing my city. All the people you meet in different walks of life. That’s what’s really cool about being a Senator.
Laventure: What would you say is the best outcome of this session? What really needs to be achieved?
Senator Meyer: We always know we’re going to balance the budget. I feel like we need to come out with some work for the bonding with the legacy fund earnings. That’s going to be the big thing to get projects done in my city.
We also have to make sure that we take care of our townships. We’ve had a lot of emergencies over the last year or two with flooding and things like that. We need to make sure the townships have the funding available to them so they’re maintaining roads, culverts, and bridges.
Hitting our forecast with oil is going to be interesting. That would be a more successful session to have a solid forecast and to know where we are going. And hopefully, the rollout with the COVID vaccine goes well.