North Dakota Legislature Will Meet Again To Finish PERS Bill

In April the North Dakota Legislature concluded sine die without having passed a budget for the Public Employees Retirement System.

At issue was the inability of the House and the Senate to come together on a change in the health insurance policy for state employees (lawmakers are on the same policy). The PERS board decided to switch from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which as long provided the coverage and is by far the state’s largest health insurer, to Sanford.

After the switch a sort of proxy battle seemed to emerge between the two insurance companies in the Legislature. Blue Cross Blue Shield seemed to have the House on their side, while Sanford had the Senate on theirs. I’ve honestly never quite understood why there was so much consternation over the change other than the fact that BCBS lost the business and Sanford got it.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]I hope the House and Senate caucuses are thinking long and hard at who they’ve got leading them. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, didn’t do themselves or their fellow Republicans any favors with this sorry exercise.[/mks_pullquote]

The battle got so ugly that, despite Republicans owning sizable majorities in both houses of the Legislature, they couldn’t resolve their differences on the bill.

So the Legislature ended. The House passed their version of the PERS budget and closed up shop leaving the Senate in the position of having to pass the bill. Only the Senate surprised the House and went sine die as well leaving the bill standing. Now PERS doesn’t have a budget for the next biennium with the current biennium set to end on June 30.

Since the session ended lawmakers have been waiting for an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as to whether or not they even need to pass a budget from PERS. The thinking being, I guess, that if they don’t pass a budget PERS could just continue to operate at current budget levels.

But now it seems as though House and Senate leadership is going to call the Legislature back into session to finalize the issue.

Which, you know, good. I guess. It’s nice we’ll finally get some closure. But this was really an example of some truly shoddy leadership. There’s no reason why this couldn’t have been handled during the session. Indeed, it should have been handled during the session.

Democrats have been nailing Republicans on this issue for weeks now, and they’re right to do so. It’s understandable that there are strong feelings on this issue, but it’s inexcusable to close down the regular session only to have to call everyone back into session weeks later to finalize this bill.

We’re going to get a resolution on this, and then everyone can move on with their lives, but I hope the House and Senate caucuses are thinking long and hard at who they’ve got leading them. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, didn’t do themselves or their fellow Republicans any favors with this sorry exercise.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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