When Legislative Leaders Don’t Respect the Role of the Legislature

MINOT, N.D. — Earlier this month, Gov. Doug Burgum, to his credit, reluctantly signed into law a bill that implements some checks and balances to his office’s emergency powers.

No, I’m not talking about that inane legislation banning statewide mask mandates in the name of some perverse notions of liberty (that, ironically enough, doesn’t really ban mask mandates at all). Burgum, rightfully, vetoed that one but was overridden by a supermajority of lawmakers who were sick of hearing about the issue from a small but vocal and organized minority of their constituents.

I’m talking about House Bill 1118, which allows lawmakers to request the governor to call them into special session during a declared emergency. If the governor refuses, the declared emergency, and the emergency executive branch powers it invokes, expire within 30 days.

It’s good policy that preserves the executive branch’s ability to act in emergent situations while simultaneously creating an avenue through which the Legislature can exercise its authority as a co-equal branch of government when an emergency stretches into months as the COVID-19 pandemic did.

The only problem with it is that it’s built on the idea that the leaders in the Legislature want to be a co-equal branch of government.

Last year, as Burgum was prudently exercising his emergency powers invoked by the pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, were busy poo-pooing calls for the Legislature to be called into special session.

There was no need, they said the time, which might make curious observers wonder why, then, they saw the need for House Bill 1118.

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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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