Here is a preview of the issues involved in the special session and what awaits Republican Gov. Doug Burgum and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
WHAT CAUSED THE SPECIAL SESSION?
Last month, the North Dakota Supreme Court struck down a major budget bill as unconstitutional. The bill was mainly intended to fund the state Office of Management and Budget but has typically been used in the past as a catchall or cleanup bill passed at the end of the biennial legislative session.
By embracing too many different topics, the court ruled the measure violated the state constitution’s single-subject requirement for bills.
The surprising decision came as a result of a lawsuit brought by the board overseeing the state’s government retirement plans. The board targeted a change in the bill that increased the number of lawmakers serving on the panel from two to four and argued it is unconstitutional for legislators to sit on the panel.
Burgum called the special session days after the court refused to delay its decision to give extra time requested by the Legislature to deal with the situation.
HOW DO LAWMAKERS FIX THIS?
The court’s ruling blew a giant hole in state government operations, requiring lawmakers to return to Bismarck to essentially resurrect the voided legislation with 14 bill drafts advanced Friday by a top legislative panel.
Burgum has expressed confidence in the Legislature righting the situation by Nov. 1, the next payroll date for state employees. The Office of Management and Budget cannot pay employees until a budget is passed, gubernatorial spokesperson Mike Nowatzki said.
Legal questions also remain about whether certain salary raises could continue to be applied across the state government, Nowatzki said.
The voided bill also included transfers from state government funds, K-12 education aid, a special criminal penalty for supplying drugs resulting in overdose deaths and injuries and details for transitioning the state’s public employee pension plan to a 401(k)-style plan for new hires.
Most lawmakers have preferred to focus only on the voided budget bill’s items and any emergent issues that can’t wait until the Legislature regularly convenes in 2025, Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor told reporters.
Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue has said lawmakers had to manage scheduling conflicts with crop harvests, weddings, overseas vacations and scheduled surgeries in preparing for the special session.
The governor is preparing to detail his priorities for the special session in a State of the State speech Monday.
Republican legislative majority leaders had negotiated with Burgum for the special session, agreeing to listen to him on subjects concerning energy, tax cuts and infrastructure, but they didn’t agree to advance any specific proposals from Burgum, Lefor said Tuesday.
The governor’s executive order included “strategic investments” in tax relief and infrastructure among the purposes for the special session, but no proposals along those lines advanced Friday.
The Legislature could have reconvened using the five days remaining from its 80-day limit every two years to meet, but any legislation passed would not take effect for 90 days without an emergency clause for immediate effectiveness upon the governor’s signature. Otherwise, bills passed in a special session become effective on the date determined in the legislation.