Does North Dakota Need A Longer Legislative Session?


In the first half of the legislative session the North Dakota House voted down HB1262, introduced by Rep. Keith Kempenich, but the bill got a surprising number of yes votes given the subject matter. Normally bills to expand the legislative session get voted down by large margins, but there seems to be a bit more interest this session in giving legislators more time.

Rep. Kempenich’s bill would have made a change to statute allowing the legislature to split its current constitutionally-constrained 80 day session into two shorter annual sessions. I’m not actually sure that the legislature would even need to pass a bill to accomplish that – the constitution doesn’t require that the legislature use all 80 of their days consecutively – but the bill wouldn’t have made the legislative session longer.

Rep. Scot Kelsh’s resolution, HCR3046, would. It would amend the constitution to move the number of days per biennium the legislature is allowed from 80 days to 120 days.

The obvious conservative argument against this expansion is that it gives the legislature more time to get up to mischief. I worry, though, that our legislature is so constrained by the constitution that they’re not able to fulfill some of the oversight functions they need to fulfill.

But what makes me think this is a bad idea is the fact that such an expanded time commitment would make it really hard for citizen legislators to serve in the legislature. Business people, people with day jobs, already struggle to take 80 days a year off to serve. Move that requirement up to 120 days, and you’re going to lose a lot of good candidates to serve in the legislature.

I think the 80 day session probably strikes the right balance between giving legislators enough time to do their jobs while not posing an insurmountable time commitment for most people. If we’re going to expand beyond an 80 session, we may as well go to a full-time legislature.