Day 75: Who is going to Blink?

Tonight at 6:30 in Bismarck the “Sine Die” party is scheduled to take place. This party is the celebration held by legislators to mark the end of the session. It’s meant to be a joyous occasion. However, over the last few sessions, it’s resembled more of a junior high dance with the Senate members huddled on one side of the room and the House members on the other. If you’ve followed this session, you can expect the divide to be even further in the hotel ballroom.

One has to wonder if the Sine Die will be rescheduled. After all Sine Die is meant to mark the end of legislative business without a later date set to meet. Disregard the leadership’s talk last week of finishing today, the 75th day of 80 (78th Day if you include the days they didn’t gavel into floor session). That deadline was issued after leadership failed to adjourn on their first self-imposed deadline of day 70. So why are they still there? There are a lot of big items left to resolve before the champagne should flow at any party in Bismarck.

Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is yet again one of the final budgets being hotly debated. The House wants a self-insurance policy, the Senate isn’t ready for this policy change offered via amendment by Rep. Al Carlson. This showdown between the chambers is eerily similar to the end of the 2015 session when the House closed up shop and left town because the Senate wouldn’t go with their changes to the PERS budget regarding Sanford Health taking over their insurance policy. Are we facing the same outcome again?

It also appears Carlson is holding dollars for Dickinson State University (DSU) as a “bargaining chip” to get Senator Rich Wardner to accept some of Carlson’s wishes. Wardner represents Dickinson along with Senator Kelly Armstrong. The House rejected the Senate’s version of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). DSU funding added through an amendment by Wardner wasn’t “germane” to the OMB budget they said. A case can be made that this amendment can be placed into the Higher Education budget which is still being debated. Carlson certainly isn’t afraid to offer pet project amendments to that budget.

Anyone familiar with the process knows the OMB budget is where legislators throw all sorts of things in. Most of them have nothing to do with OMB. “Germane” is a convenient excuse used here to stick it to the Senate and Wardner. Carlson and company certainly didn’t give a damn about germane when Rep Headland placed an amendment to reduce funding for senior services and Meals on Wheels. 

Once those two issues are resolved, we’re told then the Chambers can come together and finish their other work. Until then, some of the conference committees are getting together, staring across the table at each other, stating their Chamber’s position on the bill before them have not changed, and then leaving after a couple of minutes. Gavel in. Stare blankly. Gavel out. Repeat. Meanwhile, the taxpayers are footing the bill.

I said in a previous post, these games and distractions are undertaken by a handful of legislators. The vast majority of our elected members simply want to wrap up, pop a champagne bottle, toast their colleagues goodbye, and get home to their families. It is a shame really. But don’t forget they elected the leadership spearheading this game of hostage in the first place. Specifically in the House. Perhaps a change will speed up the process in future sessions and save us all money in the long run.