North Dakota Legislators Convene for Special Session to Address Budgetary Crisis: Key Points

by Joshua Brown
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Special legislative session in North Dakota

Legislators in North Dakota are set to assemble in Bismarck this coming Monday for a special session aimed at resolving a budgetary crisis. This follows a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court which invalidated a crucial budget bill last month.

Here’s an in-depth look at the elements involved in the upcoming special session, as well as the challenges that Republican Governor Doug Burgum and the Republican-led Legislature face.

Origins of the Special Session

The special session was necessitated by a ruling from the North Dakota Supreme Court, which declared a significant budget bill unconstitutional last month. Originally designed to allocate funds for the state Office of Management and Budget, the bill had been traditionally used as a comprehensive measure passed toward the end of the biennial legislative session.

The court declared that the bill violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule because it encompassed too many unrelated topics. This decision arose from litigation initiated by the board responsible for the state’s government retirement plans. They contended that the bill’s provision to increase legislative representation on the board from two to four members was unconstitutional.

Governor Burgum called the special session shortly after the court denied a postponement of its decision, which had been requested to allow the Legislature time to address the matter.

Legislative Response

The judicial verdict has created a significant operational void in state government, compelling lawmakers to reconvene in Bismarck to draft new legislation. A leading legislative panel put forth 14 bill drafts on Friday in an effort to remedy the situation.

Governor Burgum is optimistic that the Legislature will rectify the issue by November 1, which is the next payroll date for state employees. Without a passed budget, the state Office of Management and Budget is unable to disburse salaries, according to spokesperson Mike Nowatzki. Additionally, there are unresolved legal queries concerning the continuation of certain salary raises throughout state government.

The invalidated bill had also included elements related to state government fund transfers, K-12 educational aid, specific criminal penalties, and changes to public employee pension plans.

Additional Agenda Items

A legislative panel has permitted the submission of other bill proposals for the special session. Over 25 bills were presented for deliberation, spanning topics from tax cuts to wildlife preservation. However, only a resolution supporting Israel amidst its ongoing conflict with Hamas gained approval for advancement.

House Majority Leader Mike Lefor stated that most legislators prefer to concentrate solely on resolving the invalidated budget bill and other pressing issues that warrant immediate attention.

Governor Burgum’s Role

Governor Burgum, who is in the presidential race, will remain in Bismarck for the majority of the week, with an exception on Wednesday when he is due to speak at an event in Watford City. The governor intends to outline his priorities for the special session in a State of the State address on Monday.

While there have been discussions with Governor Burgum regarding the special session, the legislative majority leaders did not agree to push forward any of his specific proposals.

It’s noteworthy that the Legislature could have utilized the remaining five days of its 80-day biennial limit to meet, but any legislation passed under that circumstance would not be effective for 90 days without an emergency clause. Therefore, laws enacted during a special session will become effective based on the dates specified within the legislation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Special legislative session in North Dakota

What prompted the special legislative session in North Dakota?

The special legislative session was necessitated by a North Dakota Supreme Court ruling that declared a major budget bill unconstitutional. The bill was originally intended to fund the state Office of Management and Budget but was invalidated for encompassing too many unrelated topics.

What are the primary issues that the special session aims to address?

The main objective is to resolve the budgetary void created by the court’s decision. This includes drafting new legislation to fund the state Office of Management and Budget and addressing legal questions about state employee salaries, among other items.

What is Governor Doug Burgum’s role in this special session?

Governor Doug Burgum has called the special session and is expected to remain in Bismarck for the majority of the week to oversee the proceedings. He will also outline his priorities for the special session in a State of the State address.

Are there any additional agenda items for the special session?

While over 25 bill proposals were submitted for consideration, the legislative panel approved only one for advancement: a resolution in support of Israel. Most legislators prefer to focus solely on the budgetary issues at hand.

When is the next payroll date for state employees, and why is it significant?

The next payroll date for state employees is November 1. This date is significant because the state Office of Management and Budget cannot disburse salaries to employees until a new budget is passed.

Could the Legislature have used the remaining days from its 80-day limit to address this issue?

Yes, the Legislature could have used the remaining five days from its 80-day biennial limit to meet. However, any legislation passed under those circumstances would not take effect for 90 days unless it included an emergency clause.

What challenges are lawmakers facing in scheduling this special session?

According to Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue, lawmakers have had to navigate scheduling conflicts, including crop harvests, weddings, overseas vacations, and scheduled surgeries to prepare for this special session.

More about Special legislative session in North Dakota

  • North Dakota Supreme Court Ruling on Budget Bill
  • Official Statement from Governor Doug Burgum on Special Session
  • Legislative Panel Advances 14 Bill Drafts
  • Overview of North Dakota’s Single-Subject Rule for Legislation
  • State of the State Address by Governor Doug Burgum
  • Commentary on Special Session by House Majority Leader Mike Lefor
  • Senate Majority Leader David Hogue Discusses Special Session Challenges
  • Legal Considerations Regarding State Employee Salaries in North Dakota

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