There have often been proposals before the North Dakota legislature to expand the number of days that body spends in session. Currently the state constitution limits the legislature to just 80 days per biennium, though it doesn’t say that all those days have to be consecutive.
Rep. Keith Kempenich wants to put in place statute that would require those 80 days be broken up into two shorter sessions.
Kempenich’s bill says the Legislature should limit itself to 45-day sessions in odd-numbered years, and 35-day sessions in even-numbered years. Kempenich has opposed annual sessions in the past. But he says North Dakota’s recent rapid growth makes it more important that the Legislature keep up with changes. He says state agencies are being left to make decisions that should be made by the Legislature.
“Technology” is changing things faster than a biennial legislature can keep up with, according to Kepenich. “When we have these 18 month gaps things are changing and a lot of the agencies are taking stuff on that you really question whether they have the authority,” he told Great Plains News.
Conservatives in North Dakota are typically against any idea to expand the legislative session, a notion based on the idea that the less time the legislature is in session the less tax hiking and spending they can get up to. There is logic in that argument, but Kempenich makes a strong rebuttal.
With so much happening in our state so fast, decisions made to be made. If the legislature isn’t around to make them, who is making them? Bureaucrats who aren’t elected, and aren’t directly accountable to the voters?
Kempenich offers what I feel is an elegant solution. He’s allowing for the legislature to meet more often, and address more issues in a timely manner, without increasing the overall time the legislature is in session.
The one drawback, logistically speaking, is that none of our legislators are full time. It’s hard enough for them to take several months off every two years to serve in Bismarck. How many could, or would be willing to, spend a couple of months every year serving in Bismarck?
If Kempenich’s bill gets defeated, and the legislators I spoke to while I was at the capitol yesterday weren’t very enthused by it, it will be because the legislators themselves aren’t enthusiastic about annual trips to the capitol.