Port: Nearly 15% of North Dakota's House was absent for the last vote of the session
"Thirteen House lawmakers were recorded as not voting on the final bill of the session. Eight weren't even there at the beginning of the day for attendance. Yet, they'll still get paid."
MINOT, N.D. — Over the weekend, North Dakota's lawmakers finished what has been a grueling legislative session.
Officially they ended on day 75 of their session, but given their prolific use of a procedural gimmick allowing them to use what some have called "fake days," the actual count was well over the 80-day limit set by the state constitution.
Things were so grueling, in fact, that it seems many lawmakers in the House of Representatives decided to take the last day of the session off.
"It's been a lot of work in 75 days," Majority Leader Mike Lefor said in his floor speech closing out the session, but based on the vote taken just seconds before he spoke, only 86% of the elected members of his chambers were still in the room to hear him say that.
Lawmakers worked on Saturday, and when attendance was taken at the beginning of the first floor session of the day, there were eight House lawmakers missing.
By the time they took their last vote of the regular session at 2:26 am, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, there were 13 lawmakers absent and not voting, all of them Republicans.
Among the eight counted as absent when attendance was taken were:
- Rep. Karen Anderson, Republican, District 19
- Rep. Landon Bahl, Republican, District 17
- Rep. Larry Bellew, Republican, District 38
- Rep. Jorin Jonson, Republican, Distric 41
- Rep. Scott Louser, Republican, District 5
- Rep. Andrew Marschall, Republican, District 16
- Rep. SuAnn Olson, Republican, District 8
- Rep. Mitch Ostlie, Republican, District 12
By the time the last vote of the session was taken, the number counted absent had grown to 13. These lawmakers joined those above as missing in action, with the exception of Rep. Scott Louser, who missed the attendance roll call, did vote in subsequent roll calls, and was present for the last vote of the session.
- Rep. Jeff Hoverson, Republican, District 3
- Rep. Karen Rohr, Republican, District 31
- Rep. Mike Schatz, Republican, District 39
- Rep. Randy Schobinger, Republican, District 40
- Rep. Michelle Strinden, Republican, District 41
- Rep. Steve Vetter, Republican, District 18
By comparison, the Senate completed its session with every one of its members casting a vote on the last last bill of the session. One lawmaker, Sen. Michael Dwyer, a Republican from District 47, was absent for the chamber's attendance vote, but he was present for subsequent votes.
Thee absent lawmakers still get paid, by the way. The last action the House took, before their traditional of singing "Auld Lang Syne" to commemorate concluding sine die, was to approve a motion from Assistant House Majority Leader Glenn Bosch to excuse the absent members.
On the video, you can hear a spattering of "nays" just before the Speaker of the House gavels the motion approved, suggesting that there was at least a few lawmakers not happy about those who didn't remain in the chamber until the end. You can see Rep. Jay Fisher, seated just behind Bosch, seeming to get a laugh out of it.
Bosch's motion, de rigueur at the end of each floor session, ensured that the absent members still get to collect their pay for the day.
Absences happen during the session. Lawmakers get sick. They get hurt. They have family emergencies. They're human beings just like the rest of us.
Still, it seems unlikely that nearly 15% of the state House of Representatives had an emergency precluding their attendance to the end of the session. And it wasn't like there weren't important things happening. The last bill voted on, Senate Bill 2015, the budget for the Office of Management and Budget, and, per tradition, a so-called "Christmas tree" bill containing all manner of lumped-in appropriations and issues, was the subject of more than an hour of floor debate.
An hour of floor debate that these lawmakers weren't present for, but will definitely be paid for.
Maybe these lawmakers have good excuses. If you're concerned about this, I would recommend calling them and finding out.