It is past time for the Legislature to reclaim its authority. No year has made it more clear that reforms are needed in how our state operates. The deadly pandemic and collapse in oil prices laid it all out there. People went unrepresented and promises were broken. While legislators are looking to curtail executive orders, they also need to take a long look in the mirror and ask how they can do better going forward.

The challenges this year didn’t need to be met by Governor Doug Burgum alone. Yet, that is what he chose. He decided to not call the legislature in to decide policy and spend the $1.25 billion sent from the federal government to combat the pandemic. Instead, Governor Burgum issued executive orders and used a small group – established in law – to dole out covid cash. The six-member Emergency Commission made very big decisions with very little input. That lack of input and representation from across the state forced them to recalibrate their spending more than once. It simply wasn’t an ideal structure.

Legislative leaders aren’t innocent in this process. Early in the pandemic, there were calls for a special legislative session to address the needs of essential workers, businesses, and hospitals. Lawmakers had saved enough of their 80-day limit to call themselves back to work. They didn’t need to wait for the Governor. Republican leaders in the Legislature rejected those calls. Now, they’re using the pandemic and executive orders as an out for their failure to exercise what authority they already have but failed to exercise.

In July, I explained why I think North Dakota needs an upgrade. I still believe there is merit to those changes. It isn’t enough for legislators to have a title, collect the benefits, then neglect their duty and point fingers at the Governor for filling the void.

Yes, examining how to limit executive authority is warranted. I welcome it. In fact, across the country – including in Washington DC – too much authority has been given to the executive branch. But, as the current bills stand in Bismarck right now to do just that, they fall short. Hell they don’t even touch on the appropriation of dollars the legislature willingly gave to the Governor decades ago. There has been a dereliction of duty by the Legislature simply because of the mentality that can be summarized as, “this is the way we’ve always done things.” The world has changed. Our economy has changed. The budget has changed. As lawmakers meet, they need to look at how they can change to meet these challenges.

Tyler Axness
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