Published October 30, 2021

Legislative Session Uncertainty

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Dis. 28, Hazelton
Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Dis. 28, Hazelton

Ballots, mandates among items to consider

***UPDATE: After this article was scheduled for publishing, Governor Burgum issued Executive Order 2021-17 calling for a Special Session of the North Dakota Legislature to begin November 8. Keep checking The Dakotan for more updates about the upcoming Special Session.

When the state’s legislators reconvene in Bismarck on November 8, their first order of action will be to decide on a new legislative redistricting plan. Sixteen selected legislators who comprised the redistricting committee will present their plan which is expected to invoke considerable response, for and against, with some alterations expected before final approval. The redistricting came about following the results of the 2020 census and the requirement that all legislative districts contain similar population.

While redistricting will be foremost on the legislative agenda, there are other items that are poised for consideration, some of which are facing an uphill battle to even be taken up by the legislative body, and others that could be brought up for a vote.

Looming over the entire process is whether or not Governor Doug Burgum will call a special session. The upcoming session is currently limited to four days, the amount of time remaining from the past legislative session when lawmakers got their work done in 76 days, four fewer than allowed by North Dakota law. If the governor calls a special session, which could happen even during the reconvened session, then the amount of time lawmakers will be in session is indefinite.

“It’s my first extra session. I have no idea how it will be handled,” said Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Dis. 3, Minot. “As for the redistricting, for me, that’s a new game to play. I can’t have a strong opinion on it yet.”

"We have the redistricting, we have the spending to consider, and we have all the bills to consider as well. Four days just isn't enough to do all that."Rep. Scott Louser, R-Dis. 5, Minot

When asked about whether the expected legislative agenda could be wrapped up in four days, Hoverson noted that up to 40 bills could be up for consideration.

“I think it’s possible to be done in four days. I just don’t know how it would work with committee hearings and such,” said Hoverson. “We could fly through several bills, but with the makeup, dynamics, and division in the Republican party, I just can’t see it happening.”

Redistricting alone could take up the bulk of the legislators’ time, leaving little time to introduce other bills while in session. Rep. Scott Louser, R-Dis. 5, Minot, thinks there’s so much to accomplish, it may take spreading out the days the legislature is convened over the course of 7-10 calendar days. “We have the redistricting, we have the spending to consider, and we have all the bills to consider as well. Four days just isn’t enough to do all that,” Louser said.

Any bills brought before legislators must first pass through the Delayed Bills committee. One of the proposed bills would physically change North Dakota ballots.

“It would create a personalized ballot, have a scanner code on it, a holograph, and special paper, and ink,” said Rep. Jeffery Magrum, R-Dis. 28, Hazelton, the bill sponsor. “When you vote there would be a tear-off that you keep for your ID. It’s the same thing Arizona is doing.”

"There's too much suspicious activity going on. If these [election bills] aren't successful, at least we're getting the idea out." Rep. Jeffery Magrum, R-Dis. 28, Hazelton

Another bill brought to Magrum for his sponsorship relates to how ballots should be counted.

“That bill is really more of a hand count, more of a recount in the county rather than the Secretary of State,” said Magrum. “Right now we need a court order to recount. It is checks and balances by people instead of the government. That’s really what it does.”

Magrum concedes that both bills face an uphill battle, but he didn’t want to do nothing in regard to election integrity.

“There’s too much suspicious activity going on. If these aren’t successful, at least were getting the idea out,” explained Magrum.

Lawmakers will likely tackle the issue of what to do with more than a billion dollars given to the state as part of Washington’s COVID relief plan. Hoverson says his preference is to return the money to state citizens.

“That would be my favorite,” said Hoverson. “Give it back to the people. All it will do is grow government. To me, that is more socialism.”

Magrum agrees with Hoverson and hopes to convince other legislators of the same. He plans on introducing a proposal to send every man, woman, and child in the state a check of $1,293.17. The amount is based on the 2020 census.

“It’s the people’s money. Not the state’s money,” claimed Magrum. “We’re just the distributor. What this will do is give people some money, create some good will, positive attitude and trust, and help people going into the holidays, and help with expenses.”

"It's the people's money. Not the state's money. We're just the distributor."Rep. Magrum

The contentious issue of vaccine mandates is certain to be discussed at the capitol with several bills expected to come under consideration. Hoverson says at least one of those bills meets with his approval.

“Representative Ertelt has the best one. It’s comprehensive. No mandate. No way. No time. Period, with a felony attached to it,” said Hoverson.

Magrum, the former mayor of Hazelton, has been in the legislature since 2017. Hoverson first served in 2019. Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Dis. 24, Lisbon, has been in the House since 2017. Louser’s legislative service began in 2011.

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