BISMARCK — The North Dakota House on Tuesday, April 6, killed a bill that would have authorized annual sessions of the state Legislature, which currently convenes every other year.
Senate Bill 2218 failed in a 25-68 vote on the House floor after the Senate approved it earlier this session.
The proposal would have allowed North Dakota lawmakers, who convene in Bismarck in the first few months of odd-numbered years, to meet annually if they chose to. It did not change the limit on how long the Legislature can be in session. The state constitution currently allows lawmakers to convene for a total of 80 days in a two-year period.
Bills to establish annual sessions are a perennial topic in the North Dakota Legislature, though none has ever passed into law. The proposal picked up traction over the last year when the full Legislature could not weigh in on appropriations of the state's large allotment of federal COVID-19 relief funding. Still, opponents of the idea in North Dakota's part-time Legislature, which is comprised of many farmers and ranchers, among other professions, have argued for the importance of the biennial structure to a citizen-led lawmaking branch.
The bill initially squeaked by the Senate earlier this session, requiring a rare tie-breaking vote from Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who presides over the upper chamber. One lawmaker was absent that day, and the Senate reconsidered an amended form of the bill after he returned, passing a revised version with a two year sunset clause on the proposal.
Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, who introduced the bill, said the House's vote against the proposal Tuesday represents "the end of the line" for the idea of the annual session this time around. However, he predicted that it will likely return to the table next session.
Last week, Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed a separate bill that would authorize the Legislature to consider bills and conduct other legislative business in December of even-numbered years, when lawmakers convene in Bismarck for a few days of organizational session ahead of the formal start to the lawmaking season in January.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.