If you were looking for the floor session schedules of the North Dakota House and Senate today, your search would come up empty. If you were curious about tomorrow’s, I’ll save you the trouble and tell you it won’t be there. Rather than business as usual, the members of the 65th session will push through committee work instead of gathering for floor votes and debate.
Why am I bringing this up? Because without the floor session taking place, days are not eliminated from the 80-day Constitutional limit in North Dakota. So to be clear; the Legislature is in Bismarck, fully staffed, working, and getting paid from your tax dollars (as they should if they’re working) but it doesn’t count against the 80 days.
Legislative leadership in the majority sets the schedule. Rest assured they did this on purpose. Over the last two sessions, the Legislature has used all or close to all of its 80-day limit. 2013 was the longest legislative session in history where only three hours were left. It ran so late because the House defeated the state’s K-12 education funding bill. We had to clean up the mess. In 2015, they left town without finishing the people’s work because legislative leadership was fighting over their own insurance plan. In August of 2016, the Governor was forced to call a special session to address the budget because the Legislature didn’t save enough days required to call themselves back into session.
Attempts to alter the legislative schedule and accommodate our changing needs have routinely been scoffed at by leadership. “We take pride in our part-time legislature and will get the work done in the 80-day limit.” is often their response. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want to publicly vote in favor of it and admit our process can improve.
However, if you take this loophole to the extreme, it allows the legislature to work an unlimited amount of days and earn more from taxpayers. While they go through budgets, eliminate public employee positions, and reduce services, they’re allowing themselves to be paid beyond the 80 days our Constitution allows during sessions. Last year, it was estimated to cost taxpayers $80,000 per day to have a special session with reduced staff. The cost surely is higher during the regular session occurring right now.
I get there is a lot of work to get done this session. One way to do that is by eliminating distractions from legislators who want to push ideological issues rather than focus on the task at hand. Keeping that focus takes leadership. This is happening to cover up the legislative mismanagement that has taken place over the last decade. Do not be fooled. Do not let it become routine.