By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers for decades have consistently rebuffed attempts to hold annual regular Legislative sessions, arguing that doing so would grow government and turn lawmaking into a full-time job. But with voter-approved term limits now on the books, the idea of having legislators get together every year may gain traction.
The Legislature’s new Republican majority leaders say the idea of annual sessions likely has picked up momentum with term limits but they themselves don’t support the idea — at least for now.
“I’m committed to a citizen legislature — I think that’s the essence of what our legislative branch is,” said David Hogue, the Senate majority leader. “I wouldn’t say I’m closed to the idea but it’s something we have to prepare for going forward. Rep. Mike Lefor, the House majority leader, said he’s not yet sold on the idea of annual sessions, even with lawmakers facing term limits.
“I think it really does need to have an in-depth study to determine how this would work effectively, so that we’re not having annual sessions just to have annual sessions,” he said.
North Dakota’s Constitution says the Legislature may meet for a maximum of 80 days every two years, not counting special sessions and meetings held to impeach a public official. The constitution does not require biennial sessions.
The North Dakota Legislature has held its regular sessions every other year since statehood.
Only 19 states held annual sessions in the early 1960s, but now North Dakota is one of only four states where the Legislature still meets every other year. The others are in Montana, Nevada, and Texas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
North Dakota voters last month approved term limits that adds an article to the state constitution limiting lawmakers to eight years each in the state House and Senate. The governor couldn’t be elected more than twice.
North Dakota’s Legislature ended its longest session ever in 2013, when it logged the maximum 80 days allowed. Lawmakers met for more than 20 hours straight on the last day of that session. The 1975 Legislature finished its work in 53 days, the shortest session in modern history.
The North Dakota Legislature has defeated annual session measures more than two dozen times over the past 40 years. But backers have argued lawmakers should meet annually instead of every two years to deal with increasingly complex issues, bigger budgets and spending demands.
No legislation of any kind has yet surfaced ahead of the next legislative session, which begins on Jan. 3.
John Bjornson, the Legislature’s top attorney, said legislation almost surely will arise pushing for annual sessions.
“Generally, every session we have a bill, and it’s safe to say we’ll probably have one based on history,” said Bjornson, who heads the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm that includes accountants and attorneys who draft new laws and budget proposals for lawmakers.