Legislator Wants ND’s Legislature To Meet Every Year

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There have often been proposals before the North Dakota legislature to expand the number of days that body spends in session. Currently the state constitution limits the legislature to just 80 days per biennium, though it doesn’t say that all those days have to be consecutive.

Rep. Keith Kempenich wants to put in place statute that would require those 80 days be broken up into two shorter sessions.

Kempenich’s bill says the Legislature should limit itself to 45-day sessions in odd-numbered years, and 35-day sessions in even-numbered years. Kempenich has opposed annual sessions in the past. But he says North Dakota’s recent rapid growth makes it more important that the Legislature keep up with changes. He says state agencies are being left to make decisions that should be made by the Legislature.

“Technology” is changing things faster than a biennial legislature can keep up with, according to Kepenich. “When we have these 18 month gaps things are changing and a lot of the agencies are taking stuff on that you really question whether they have the authority,” he told Great Plains News.

Conservatives in North Dakota are typically against any idea to expand the legislative session, a notion based on the idea that the less time the legislature is in session the less tax hiking and spending they can get up to. There is logic in that argument, but Kempenich makes a strong rebuttal.

With so much happening in our state so fast, decisions made to be made. If the legislature isn’t around to make them, who is making them? Bureaucrats who aren’t elected, and aren’t directly accountable to the voters?

Kempenich offers what I feel is an elegant solution. He’s allowing for the legislature to meet more often, and address more issues in a timely manner, without increasing the overall time the legislature is in session.

The one drawback, logistically speaking, is that none of our legislators are full time. It’s hard enough for them to take several months off every two years to serve in Bismarck. How many could, or would be willing to, spend a couple of months every year serving in Bismarck?

If Kempenich’s bill gets defeated, and the legislators I spoke to while I was at the capitol yesterday weren’t very enthused by it, it will be because the legislators themselves aren’t enthusiastic about annual trips to the capitol.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • camsaure

    We first need to get rid of more RINOs in the ND legislature first. Every time the legislature meets more of our God given rights are eroded.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, ok, but would you at least rather have decisions made by our elected officials or by state bureaucrats who are accountable to the taxpayers at all?

      • camsaure

        Well, either wayu the status quo isn’t working very well as the RINOs seem to refuse to hold bureacrats accountable, the SBHE being an example. First I would like a legislature or at least a party that I can trust and renounce progressivism.

      • Rick Olson

        Well, in the grand scheme of things, the various powers of the government eminates from the people of the state who elect our government leaders to office and we who pay our taxes which fund the government. Therefore in most every respect, every branch, agency and department of government is accountable to the taxpayers of the state.

        I agree that this should be a top-down existence as the founders of our state intended. All legislation, appropriations, etc. flows from the Legislature through the governor and then on to the bureaucrats and agencies. Our elected officials — the governor, lieutenant governor, the state constitutional officers and the members of the Legislative Assembly are all popularly elected by the people. They wouldn’t have their jobs if it weren’t for the majority of the people of North Dakota who elected them to office in the first place. The Legislature sets all appropriations and passes a budget, which the various agencies and bureaucrats must live with.

        • Kevin Flanagan

          The state government bureaucrats have nothing but contempt for those in the productive, private sector.

          • Al Scott

            A lowbrow comment, to be sure.

          • Kevin Flanagan

            I wish my state income taxes were low like yours are.

          • Al Scott

            Grow up, dude.

          • Kevin Flanagan

            “Dude?”

    • reggy

      Maybe you should move to a country without a government. Problem solved!

      • camsaure

        Well I guess I am for the least amount of govt as possible and you are obviously NOT. So I guess you are part of the problem. Have you got a pinup picture of Hitler on your wall by any chance? Yes, we are a nation of Laws, but when people like you try to use our freedoms to thwart us at every turn, it makes it clear that less laws is better. Especially when people like yourself(probably corrupt) use the laws to either enrich yourself or worse yet for the thrill of being able to control people. (did you suffer from playground beatings or taunts perchance?)

  • DelawareBeachHouse

    It’s the way the South Dakota Legislature operates. I guess they do OK in Pierre.

    • Kevin Flanagan

      SD also has no income tax.

      • DelawareBeachHouse

        Right! Imagine a pro-energy state with no income tax.

  • Rick Olson

    South Dakota does virtually what Kemperich is proposing. The South Dakota Constitution was amended a few years ago which placed an annual 40 day limit upon the length of each legislative session. Accordingly, a South Dakota legislative session spans across both years of a biennium. They’ll typically hold a 40 day session in the odd-numbered years to hammer out the budget and then a 35 day session in the even numbered years to handle the other business that comes before them.

    One important difference between the two legislatures. North Dakota’s requires that each and every bill and resolution that is introduced in the House and Senate must receive a public hearing in at least one of the standing committees, and then all bills and resolutions must be returned to the floor of the house it was introduced in for a final vote. This eats up a lot of time during the session…particularly when they have to vote on bills that receive an unfavorable “do not pass” recommendation in committee.

    Meanwhile, in South Dakota, given the short time frame of each sitting of the legislature, the committees are empowered to kill bills and resolutions in committee. While each bill and resolution that is introduced does get a public hearing, the committees generally vote on a bill right after a hearing concludes. If a bill gets a “defer to the 41st day (36th day in an even-numbered year session)” this for all practical purposes stops a bill dead in its tracks.

    If North Dakota were to split the 80 day session across both years of a biennium, the House and Senate committees would almost have to be empowered to kill legislation in committee. There just wouldn’t be enough time to vote on each bill that gets a do not pass in committee.

    With the shorter sessions, South Dakota lawmakers are generally done for the year in March of each year; instead of April or May like in North Dakota.
    There would be plenty of time for North Dakota’s part-time lawmakers to get the business of the state done in a shorter time frame each year, and then still be able to jet off to their winter vacations, etc.

  • Captjohn

    I fought against annual sessions my entire legislative career. I hope you realize how important the provision is that every bill must be voted on by the chamber in which it originates. There are strategies to make sessions move faster but eliminating that provision would be a terrible step. Legislatures that don’t have the provision are prone to all kinds of excess not the least of which is like our own US Senate. What do you think would happen in North Dakota if a Sen.Reid double with a Democrat majority were to control the North Dakota Senate. Our century old rules are there to insure the minority has a voice. They also insure that one legislative body can’t stalemate everything ala Sen. Reid. What some forget is that by rule if a bill passes one chamber it must be heard in the next and it must come to a full vote.
    When we struggled with revenue short falls two decades ago the same arguments were heard for different reasons.
    I agree our legislature should do a better job of oversight of state goverment. That is why we developed the legislative council system for the interim. If legislators don’t do a good job of oversight it isn’t because they don’t have the mechanism.
    Congress does a terrible job of oversight and they are full time. If they made less law and did more oversight maybe we wouldn’t be 16 trillion in debt and going deeper.

    • OobieDoobie

      Amen Captjohn!

  • nimrod

    I would be ok with this proposal, as long as they can’t introduce any more bills as they can now. I, however still fail to see the problem of one session per 2 year period. Solutions in search of a problem is a foolish way to go.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Each house has a deadline (the House’s was yesterday, the Senate’s is on Monday) before which they an introduce an unlimited number of bills.

  • JW-American

    I would love to see all bills be “In the Hopper” 30 days prior to the start of the session, so that the session calender be set for at least 50% of those bills scheduled for certain days. The current system of posting the hearings on late Friday for a 8:00 hearing oon Monday SUCKS! its a 3 or 4 hour drive for 75% of the population and it would be nice to know that certain key bills will be held on which days so that hotel rooms and travel planning could happen

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I agree with all of this.

  • LibertyFargo

    Are there examples of things that Agencies are having to decide upon where legislators should be instead?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Oversight of higher ed is one glaring example. Also, if they met more often, they could probably do a better job of administering infrastructure.

      • LibertyFargo

        Those are good answers Rob.

        However, I wonder if “oversight” in terms of time spent in Bismarck is the same as “oversight” in terms of GOOD legislation and CLEAR rules/regulation/budgets and CLEAR lines of accountability and responsibility.

        Will more regular time in Bismarck ACTUALLY enable the ND legislators to better regulate higher ed? Or do we just need the legislators to regin in the University System with REAL laws and REAL accountability as opposed to laws with so many exceptions and exemptions that one has to wonder if the law means anything at all!

        I’m not saying I am against shorter yearly sessions (as others have noted it seems to work well in SD) but I just don’t want to assume that “if they meet yearly” it will fix the current “problems.”

        I think the HD House/Senate/Gov. could address Higher Ed and Infrastructure with, as mentioned, clearer rules and harder line budgets for Higher Ed (grow a pair and hold some lines) and better budgeting to state and local officials/administrators who DO work full-time who, for example, are responsible for taking the dollars allocated for roads and making sure the priorities are funded appropriately.

        Where I work we have a primary budget meeting once each year. We could do two IF we had a more static budget (like a state govt who budgets off of Tax receipts/projections). We set dollar amounts ($x in this expense category $y in this category) and then different managers are responsible to steward those funds for the year.

        If there are emergencies or unexpected needs we deal with them but overall we set our budgets and go.

        Again, I’m not saying I am against a yearly meeting of the legislators… that is ok with me. But lets not assume that meeting more often will fix the problem. They’ll just keep NOT fixing the problems in higher-ed or taxation every year as opposed to NOT fixing the problems every OTHER year.

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