Spending demands to top North Dakota legislative session
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Lawmakers convene Thursday for North Dakota’s 66th legislative session in Bismarck, where they will be faced with tough spending choices at a time when the state’s economy is slowly emerging from a years-long rut due to depressed oil and agriculture prices.
Some things to know as the once-every-two-years session opens:
Gov. Doug Burgum begins the session with his State of the State address in the afternoon. The first-term Republican governor is expected to talk about the challenges facing North Dakota and its fiscal health.
Burgum unveiled a $14.3 billion budget last month that increases state spending 5 percent, with pay raises for state employees and spending spikes on education, human services and infrastructure projects.
The two-year spending blueprint also seeks to replenish more than $500 million of the $800 million in reserves that were used to balance previous budgets.
Burgum’s budget is the second-biggest proposed by a governor in state history.
Approximately 230 bills have been filed ahead of the session, about the same as two years ago but nearly 150 below the long-term average. Scores more will come once the Legislature settles in in the first few weeks.
Notable proposals so far include a bill that would give the North Dakota Legislature final say on successful citizen-led initiatives that amend the state constitution; charging owners of electric and hybrid vehicles an annual fee to help offset lost motor fuel taxes; legal sports betting; and another attempt at repealing Sunday business restrictions that have been in place since statehood and are rooted in religious tradition.
SPEECHES AND GAVELS
Speeches normally dominate the first week of the Legislature but they are being held on the opening day of this biennial session, in an effort to bank some time ahead of the 80-day maximum set by the North Dakota Constitution. Lawmakers in recent sessions have pushed the deadline.
The session does not officially begin until noon, though activities begin two hours earlier with presentations from a Native American tribal leader and from the state’s chief justice.
Those speeches were scrubbed last session because of security from protests of the four-state, $3.8 million Dakota Access pipeline in southern North Dakota that lawmakers said placed a burden on law enforcement and the state Highway Patrol, which provides security at the state Capitol.
Beginning at 10 a.m., Spirit Lake Sioux tribal chairwoman Myra Pearson will speak about the relationship between state government and North Dakota’s tribal governments. Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle will follow, with his State of the Judiciary speech.
Burgum is delivering his State of the State address at 1 p.m., after the Senate and the House of Representatives convene in a joint session.
It’s being broadcast live on television, radio and the internet.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, despite Democrats adding two seats in the House and one in the Senate in the November election.
Republicans have a 79-15 advantage in the House, and a 37-10 edge in the Senate.
There are 18 new lawmakers this year, which is about average but about half that of two years ago.
The session is expected to last through late April.