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Port: Do you want to spend $100,000 per day for North Dakota lawmakers to fight about masks?

Legislative leaders need to be very careful that this special session doesn't turn into a never-ending, cost-spiraling circus.

An exterior view of the North Dakota State Capitol building
The North Dakota State Capitol is seen Jan. 17, 2021. Michelle Griffith / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — The daily cost of the Legislature meeting in special session is about $100,000 .

Let's make sure the issues the Legislature is debating on those days are worth the cost.

We knew the Legislature would be holding a special session this month in Bismarck to attend to the decennial requirement for redistricting. What we didn't know, until last week , is how that session would be structured.

Legislative leaders had two options.

They could have re-convened their regular legislative session from earlier this year. The state constitution allows the Legislature to gavel in for up to 80 days every two-year cycle, and the lawmakers had four of those days left to use.

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They went with the other choice, hammering out a deal with Gov. Doug Burgum to call in a special session.

That gives the lawmakers more time to handle both redistricting and the appropriation of more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 funding (or "Biden Bucks," as some of the lawmakers are calling the funds).

The problem is that it also eliminates the constitutional restraint on the length of this special session. That four-day time limit is gone now. This special session has no required end.

Legislative leaders need to be very careful that this special session doesn't turn into a never-ending, cost-spiraling circus.

Lawmakers I've spoken to are expecting the introduction of at least a half-dozen bills, and probably more, that aren't related to redistricting or the "Biden Bucks."

There are bills expected on masks (one idea is to deny state funds to local government, like school boards, who implement mandates ), vaccine mandates (some want to make it illegal even for private businesses to require vaccines), and election integrity (inspired by the Trump movement's big lie about the 2020 election).

These are bills from the current fronts in the culture wars.

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This legislation has no business being considered during the special session.

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Gov. Doug Burgum delivers his State of the State address in the North Dakota House of Representatives chamber on Jan. 5, 2021. Kyle Martin / Forum News Service

During the regular session?

Absolutely.

North Dakota has a wide-open legislative process. Every lawmaker is free to introduce whatever bills they feel are important, no matter how stupid, and each one of those bills will, at the very least, get a committee hearing and a floor vote. Those voters upset about the amount of time spent wrangling over stupid bills ought to consider their source, and then consider voting for better people.

But the session planned for this month is not a regular session that's budgeted and planned for. It's a special session, prompted by the constitutional requirement for redistricting, as well as the Legislature's constitutional duty to appropriate funds in the State of North Dakota.

Any business not related to those two matters should be set aside until the next regular session in 2023.

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The last thing North Dakota taxpayers need is a big bill for a protracted legislative session that spends most of its time on inanities like masks, vaccines, and "stolen election" bills.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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