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ND Legislature getting organized this week

Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

North Dakota state Rep. Kenton Onstad, right, D-Parshall, the Democratic minority leader, confers with his legislative aide, Cynthia Kaldor, in a state Capitol corridor on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, before the start of the Legislature's organizational session. Kaldor is a former member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education and the Democratic candidate for state tax commissioner in 2010. The session, which began Monday, will feature Gov. Jack Dalrymple's budget recommendations, which he will deliver Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Before the North Dakota Legislature can get to work in January, lawmakers first have to know which desk they'll be using, where they'll be parking and the names of the committees on which they'll be serving.

On Monday, the Legislature began a three-day session to grind through the humdrum chore of getting organized, a process that includes briefings on legislative procedures, recommended bills and ethics, as well as computer training sessions.

The session ends Wednesday after Gov. Jack Dalrymple gives his budget recommendations to lawmakers. The proposal offers a starting point that lawmakers will use in writing the 2013-15 state budget for the period that begins June 1.

"It is going to be a very historic budget message. It is going to move things forward in many areas to a greater extent than we have ever seen before," Dalrymple said.

Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley, was elected Monday as the North Dakota House's new speaker, a job that involves presiding over the House's daily floor sessions. And Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, was chosen as the Senate's president pro tempore, who runs the Senate's floor sessions when the lieutenant governor is absent.

Much of the three days will be consumed by assigning lawmakers to the Legislature's network of committees, which review bills before they are voted upon.

Competition for favored spots is sometimes fierce.

"It's a tough job," said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader. "Come Wednesday, I don't have as many friends."

The organizational session has much of the flavor of the first day of school, with freshman lawmakers sizing up their surroundings and veterans getting acquainted with the newcomers.

Lawmakers are assigned desks on the House and Senate floor — the only office space that most will have in the Capitol — and provided office supplies from a room stocked with staplers, folders and pens.

They are assigned reserved parking spots, given key cards to get in and out of the Capitol building after hours and repeatedly reminded to visit the Capitol's press studio for an official portrait.

New GOP Rep. Rick Becker, a plastic surgeon in Bismarck, juggled his schedule through his smartphone as he waited for a brief House floor session to begin.

"What I would say is the most important thing is just starting to meet everyone, and rub elbows a little bit," Becker said.