Port: Will it be one special session or two?
North Dakota will have a special session this year to address redistricting and an ongoing dispute over interim appropriations. But will it be two sessions or one? And will other issues turn the session(s) into a circus?
MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota is going to have a special legislative session this year.
That was a given because the census numbers have been tallied and finalized, and our constitution now requires that we redraw political boundaries per those new numbers.
But the state has issues beyond redistricting that lawmakers want to address, and the question being settled right now is whether there will be two separate sessions or one longer one.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert , and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner , are set to discuss that question with Gov. Doug Burgum this week.
Lawmakers I've spoken to say they think a longer session in November is the more likely of the two outcomes.
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"If we don't do one longer one in November, the first of two shorter sessions would have to be in September, and I don't see any movement toward that," one House member told me.
Aside from redistricting, there is a wide consensus that the Legislature's new limits on interim appropriations need to be addressed.
It's an unusual situation. Earlier this year, North Dakota lawmakers passed SB2290 and then overrode Burgum's veto of that law. Now, most lawmakers I've spoken to agree that the cap on interim appropriations needs to be addressed.
SB2290 was introduced by Sen. David Hogue , a Republican from Minot, and inspired by pandemic-era federal spending. The feds rained money on the states through the CARES Act and other initiatives. In North Dakota, that funding, which measured well over $1 billion during the last interim, was mostly appropriated by the six-member Emergency Commission , which is made up of the governor, the secretary of state, as well as the majority leaders and Appropriations Committee chairs from the House and the Senate.
Except, in our system of government, the Legislature is supposed to be doing the appropriating. Lawmakers felt, rightly, that $1 billion was too much for anything other than the full legislative assembly to appropriate. SB2290 set a $50 million cap on interim appropriations, but that cap was hit immediately this interim because we're still living in the pandemic era with a lot of federal money to be spent.
Whenever a special session is held, some adjustments to that law will be made, and from what I'm hearing, it seems the changes will mostly focus on raising the cap, not eliminating it.
But beyond SB2290 and redistricting, could other bills be introduced in the session?
It's a near certainty that some lawmakers will try.
"We'll see some stuff from the far right," one Republican House member told me, referring to the Bastiat Caucus .
Grandstanding caucus founder Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) is expected to introduce a bill patterned on a resolution from the NDGOP's District 8 committee , which seeks to deny public funds to schools and other entities that implement masking or vaccine mandates. That won't likely be the only bill dealing with masks and vaccines, given the ongoing obsession those two issues have inspired in some political circles.
"We'll probably see some voting bills too," my House source told me. Those will probably be inspired by claims from Bastiat Caucus-aligned activists like Michael Coachman. As a part of their quixotic petition campaign to recall Burgum , Coachman and others have been making some wild claims about fraud and hacking in North Dakota's election system that has proven popular with certain Facebook users the Bastiat Caucus likes to pander to.
Burgum and the legislative leadership would like to keep any special session tightly focused on the appropriations and redistricting issues. They certainly don't want the session(s) to turn into a circus.
Any bills not related to the special session's specific purposes will have to go through each chamber's Delayed Bills Committee. If a majority of the committee doesn't approve of a bill, it goes to the floor, where a 2/3 majority vote is required for introduction.
It doesn't seem likely that any of the aforementioned initiatives will muster that level of support. Not that it really matters. The modus operandi of the Bastiats isn't to make policy so much as to cause a scene they can take back to their social media audiences.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .