North Dakota Legislature Needs To Be More Protective Of Their Authority


I often hear people complain about North Dakota lawmakers. They’re accused of being spendthrifts and in the pockets of special interests. But from my perspective, one of the major problems with the Legislature is that they seem gunshy about exercising their own authority.

Case in point.

Earlier this session House lawmakers approved HB1187, introduced by Republican Rep. Keith Kempenich of Bowman, which would  have required that any rules of “general applicability” created by the Industrial Commission be subject to the review of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules committee.

That committee is our part-time Legislature’s effort to ensure that they’re not ceding their lawmaking authority to the executive branch. To put it another way, the requirement that regulations get approved by the Administrative Rules committee is a way for lawmakers to make sure that the state’s regulators don’t get in the habit of writing their own laws as seems to happen so often at the federal level. Massively powerful bureaucracies like the EPA and the IRS seem to think that they’re law-making bodies unto themselves.

We don’t need that in North Dakota.

HB1187 passed in the state House by a wide margin, a 62-27 vote. But it failed yesterday in the state Senate without a single Senator voting for it.

That’s troubling.

The bill was good policy aimed at putting the regulatory authority of the executive branch squarely under the scrutiny of the legislative branch. That whole checks and balances thing. But too many in the Legislature seem to be in the thrall of the executive branch. They shrink from asserting their authority as a separate and co-equal branch of government.

Maybe that’s a product of North Dakota’s one-party rule. Maybe we’ve had a Republican Legislature and a Republican Governor for so long that lawmakers have lost sight of their duty to be independent.