North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum calls special session for Legislature to address rejected budget

Legislators will return to the State Capitol in Bismarck on Monday. The special session could draw additional bills, including from the governor.

The North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck.
Forum Communications
By April Baumgarten

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers will head back to the State Capitol for a special session after the state Supreme Court rejected a budget bill.

But leaders expect more proposed legislation, prompting concerns about whether legislators can approve a new budget before funding runs out for parts of the government next month.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday, Oct. 17, called the special session. Lawmakers will meet Monday and reapprove, in several separate bills, Senate Bill 2015.

The bill that was initially approved during the 2023 regular session allocated $322 million for various government agencies and functions. Nearly half of the money went to the Office of Management and Budget, for the 2023-25 biennium.

The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled last month that the OMB budget violated the state’s constitution since the bill didn’t solely focus on the budget. Justices said the legislation also addressed government operations.

The Supreme Court said it had no power to delay its judgment.

The Legislative Council has drafted 14 bills that separates government operations from allocations for the OMB budget. “Every section that was in 2015 is in these bills,” Legislative Council Director John Bjorson said.

That includes a clause that would allow the House and Senate majority leaders to appoint two members for each chamber to the Public Employees Retirement System Board. That clause was part of a lawsuit the PERS Board brought against the State Legislature that prompted the Supreme Court’s opinion.

The board argued the language violated the separation of powers clause that keeps legislators from interfering with the executive branch.

The Supreme Court did not rule on the separation clause, though Chief Justice Jon Jensen questioned whether PERS would prevail in its argument against allowing legislators to appoint themselves to the retirement board.

If Legislators called themselves back for a special session, any bills passed would take effect 90 days later unless twothirds of lawmakers approved an emergency clause, Burgum said in a news release.

By calling the session himself, bills would become effective immediately after he signs them. That means government services, which are funded until Nov. 1, won’t be interrupted, he said.

In exchange for the governor calling the session, legislative leadership promised Burgum lawmakers would consider
some of the governor’s proposals, including on infrastructure, energy and tax relief, Lefor said.

“No bills were promised, but discussion in good faith was promised,” Lefor said.

Legislators also have suggested proposing bills not related to the budget, Senate Majority Leader David Hogue, R-Minot, said. Lefor estimated at least 25 additional bills are in the works, but that number could grow much higher.

Some Legislative Management members like Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, wanted to focus on the budget and not allow “Hail Mary bills.”

“I don’t think that would serve the people of North Dakota,” she said.

Legislators should be allowed to propose bills if Legislative Management takes proposals from the governor, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said.

Other members, including Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said there should be more special session committees. Leadership has proposed two: policy and appropriations.

Boschee said he had concerns about setting a precedent where few legislators consider and make decisions. Having more committees would allow more lawmakers to participate and allow more time to take input from citizens, Mathern said.

“Two-thirds of the Legislature will be sitting in the chamber twiddling our thumbs,” Boschee said, adding speeding through bills during the regular session got lawmakers into this situation.

The Legislature adjourned in April from its regular session with five days to spare. In an executive order, Burgum gave the Legislature until Oct. 27 to conclude its business.

Legislative Management is a gatekeeper for which bills to consider, Hogue said. He’s said he’s not inflexible in allowing other bills, but “I try to keep the barn door closed pretty tight.”

“We should be mindful of the limited time that we have,” Hogue said.

Lefor balked at a proposal to limit the session to the proposed 14 bills about the budget, noting the promises made to the governor. He said he wants to “hit the ground running” Monday so legislators can get back to their lives.

Many lawmakers are in the fields and have to get crops harvested before winter sets in, Lefor said.
“Speed is necessary, unfortunately,” he said.

Legislative Management set a 5 p.m. Thursday deadline for lawmakers to submit bill drafts or “concepts” for bills to Legislative Council. Any new bills should be limited and emergent, meaning they can’t wait until the 2025 regular session, Lefor said.

“I think that is a pretty high standard,” he said.

A legislator would have to sponsor any bills Burgum wants considered, he said.

Legislative Management plans to meet Friday morning.