North Dakota lawmakers consider new term limits in wake of voter-passed measure
A proposal by Fargo Rep. Jim Kasper suggests extending the number of years allowed under the voter-passed term limits measure and expanding the limits to other elected positions.
BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers are considering crafting new term limits for themselves and setting the same for all executive branch officials in a proposal that would override restrictions voters approved last fall.
The House Industry, Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday, March 8, heard House Concurrent Resolution 3019 by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo. The measure would have to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate and be approved by voters next year to take effect.
Lawmakers during the hearing extensively questioned the 2022 term limits committee chairman over the measure's provisions, and its campaign funding, spending and relationship to the national group, U.S. Term Limits, which seeks term limits on Congress. Lawmakers also asked about what they called misrepresentation of the measure to voters, as to whom the term limits would apply.
Last year, 63% of voters approved the term limits for eight cumulative years each in the House and the Senate. The governor cannot be elected to more than two four-year terms. Term limits are not retroactive, meaning the service of current officeholders does not count against them.
Notably, the measure's language also bars the Legislature from proposing amendments to alter or repeal the term limits; only citizens are able to do so. Kasper, who was first elected in 2000, said he "would love to have this in court," calling the 2022 measure flawed and unconstitutional.
The House panel amended the resolution to impose term limits of 12 consecutive years each in the House and Senate, with at least a four-year break before those lawmakers could run to serve again for another 12 consecutive years. Members who completed serving partial terms would be eligible to serve 12 more consecutive years.
The same limits would apply to all elected executive branch officials, such as the attorney general and secretary of state.
"The people of North Dakota have spoken. They said they want term limits, so this is a modification of the current term limit law. This is not a throwing out of term limits. It's just a modification," Kasper told the House panel.
The committee gave the amended resolution an 11-3 "do pass" recommendation, with a House vote likely next week.
Lawmakers opposed Measure 1 last year for reducing institutional knowledge in the Legislature. Gov. Doug Burgum supported the measure.
The measure also was mired in petition fraud allegations that reached the state Supreme Court, which ordered a public vote on the measure that the then-secretary of state had initially rejected.
Measure Chairman Jared Hendrix opposes Kasper's resolution, calling it unconstitutional and saying a potential lawsuit would be a "frivolous expenditure of state funds."
He called Kasper's proposal "effectively not term limits," amounting to "48 years between both chambers."
Hendrix said the measure "could be worth supporting" if amended to bring the other statewide officeholders in line with the term limits voters approved for the governor and the Legislature.
He also said the Legislature could put to voters whether to abolish the prohibition on legislative proposals to change the term limits.
"You could come back if that were to pass by the people, and then you could tackle the term limits in the Legislature in two years," Hendrix told the House panel.
Committee Chair Scott Louser, R-Minot, commended Hendrix "for coming before the committee and standing for what you believe."
Kasper also introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3020 for annual legislative sessions, which the House panel amended to give the Legislature 100 days for meeting every two years, with an additional 20 days if approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate. Days to reconvene and reconsider a governor's veto wouldn't count.
Right now, the Legislature can meet for up to 80 days every two years. Kasper said he brought HCR 3020 to enable more experience for new lawmakers in the term limits era.
"Current law, without this bill, we could have annual sessions by just doing it," Kasper said. "But what this is saying is if we're going to go to annual sessions, we're going to need a little bit larger than potentially 40 days each year, so this is saying we can have biennial sessions, or the leadership can decide we're going to have annual sessions."
The committee gave HCR 3020 an 8-6 "do pass" recommendation.