BISMARCK — A group of top North Dakota lawmakers met on Wednesday, May 19, to sketch a blueprint for the 18-month period before the next legislative session begins.
The 17 members of Legislative Management on Wednesday selected 50 topics to study during the interim period, including state-leased office spaces, gambling addiction and gun ammunition shortages. Those analyses will be added to a dozen mandatory studies that focus on a wide range of subjects, like prescription drug pricing, eligibility for state retirement benefits and uses for the voter-approved oil tax savings account. The panel of 13 Republicans and four Democrats also rejected more than 20 proposed study topics.
A still-undefined number of interim committees will take up the studies, which could produce inspiration for legislation going into the next regular session in 2023. The panel will divvy up the Legislature into committees next month after the 141 lawmakers fill out forms with their preferences.
Among the studies will be an examination of the amount, cost and occupancy of office space leased by the state since the beginning of 2018. The analysis follows recent news reports that found that the state's biggest leased office space is mostly vacant as employees continue to work from home.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said the study should look into ownership of the leased office spaces by members of the Legislature to ensure public transparency. House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said many lawmakers operate private businesses, and it shouldn't be a "gotcha moment" to find out some are leasing property to the state if there are no apparent conflicts of interest.
Lawmakers' tallest task during the interim period will be drawing new legislative districts for the state — a process that only comes around after the U.S. Census every 10 years. Next month, the panel will appoint 16 members — eight each from the House and Senate — to serve on the redistricting committee. That group will likely include 14 Republicans and two Democrats, a reflection of the Legislature's partisan makeup, said panel chairman Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.
Holmberg also noted that lawmakers shouldn't rush to judgment on whether there will be a special legislative session to allocate $1 billion in federal funds coming into the state via a recently passed coronavirus relief package.
Last month, the Legislature voted to override Gov. Doug Burgum's veto to create a law that requires the governor to call lawmakers into special session to appropriate large amounts of federal money. But the latest aid package only requires that the state spend the money by 2024, so lawmakers could wait until their next regular session to divide up the money, Holmberg said.