January 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm in INFORUM
I’ve been writing about the North Dakota Legislature for more years than all but one of the current lawmakers have been serving. Continue Reading
Tags: columns, Jack Zaleski, Legislature, nd, Opinion 4 Comments »
Every bill requires some staff time. It doesn’t seem right that just because someone’s constituent wants a state butterfly tax payers must foot the staff costs–plus the cost of the legistlature itself. I’ve thought there could be a fee of $100 or so for each bill–the politican would pay the fee.
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I’m not sure what former Mayor Lindgren suggests would pass constitutional muster. Though I am not an attorney nor a legal expert myself, it seems that such a fee would be tenamount to a fine that a legislator would be required to pay for each bill he or she has prepared for introduction.
I think that by its very open and transparent nature of lawmaking, the North Dakota Legislature winds up having to slog through each and every piece of legislation. North Dakota’s legislative rules in both the House and the Senate ensures that every last bill or resolution gets its “day in court” so to speak. Meaning, every bill and resolution that is introduced gets a public hearing in committee.
This is where the similarities between state legislative bodies ends. In North Dakota, current legislative rules require that all bills and resolutions be returned from committee for a final vote in the house of introduction.
In other states, the committees are empowered to kill legislation in committee. Not so in North Dakota. Each of the standing committees must take a vote on every piece of legislation and each resolution that is assigned to it – either favorable or unfavorable – and the final fate of a bill or resolution rests with the full body.
I believe this is where much needed time gets wasted in the North Dakota legislative process. The House and Senate waste a lot of their time voting on bills that received a do not pass recommendation in committee to officially put those pieces of legislation out of their misery. Sometimes pieces of legislation which received an unfavorable recommendation in committee wind up getting passed on the floor. Sometimes pieces of legislation which received a favorable recommendation in committee gets defeated on the floor.
South Dakota seems to have a very efficient Legislature. Their Legislature is limited in the number of days that it can meet per biennium. Their House and Senate meet annually instead of every other year that North Dakota’s is in session. In South Dakota, a biennial legislative session runs over the course of two years, with two mini sessions. In the odd numbered years, the Legislature meets for 40 days. In the even-numbered years, the Legislature meets for 35 days.
Each bill and resolution does get a public hearing in committee; additionally, the committees generally vote on their recommendation for the bill or resolution just heard at the completion of the hearing.
In South Dakota, rather than sending the bill or resolution back to the full house for final consideration, their standing committees are empowered to kill legislation in committee. This is done by a motion to “defer the bill to the 41st or 36th Legislative Day.” Since there will never be a 41st or 36th Legislative Day, because the sessions adjourn for the on the 40th Legislative Day during the odd-numbered years and the 35th Legislative Day during the even-numbered years; the bill or resolution is for all practical purposes dead. However, there are parliamentary procedures that can be employed to bring a bill out of committee for final consideration.
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This should not be taken to mean that South Dakota’s standing committees have the power to “pocket veto” bills they don’t like. Each bill and resolution does get a hearing and the committees do discuss every piece of legislation that has been introduced. This is unlike some states in which the standing committee chairpeople are allowed to “pigeonhole” any bill by simply not bringing it before the committee. That gives the chairpeople too much power.
North Dakota’s system of lawmaking is one of the most open and transparent systems in the country. It ensures that ordinary people like myself and yourself can become involved in the process. Our legislators want to hear your thoughts about any given piece of legislation. That is why every bill goes up in a public hearing.
I know this is a subject which gets a very sour reception among many North Dakota lawmakers. I am an advocate for the North Dakota Legislature switching to annual sessions. It could be done with the present constitutional limit of 80 days per biennium (two year period) that the Legislature may meet. Split it up however they like 40-40, 60-20 45-35, it doesn’t matter.
The Legislature has 80 legislative days in which to squeeze in two years worth of the state’s affairs. There simply isn’t enough time during the session for them to study any issue at length. This is why every last idea that could possibly become a bill becomes a bill and thus must be considered equally given the Legislature’s open and transparent nature.
It seems to me that the Legislature has become the victim of its own success. North Dakota’s legislative leaders should consider these and other issues at length during the interim time between this year’s session and when the Legislature next convenes in 2013. I’m sure there is room for even more efficiency in the process and hopefully, the lawmakers will come to the place where they will find and adopt those efficiencies.
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I need to clarify about South Dakota. The committees may:
1. Vote “Do Pass.” This is a favorable recommendation from the committee that the full body pass the legislation.
2. Vote “Do Pass with amendments.” Still a favorable recommendation from the committee that the full body adopt the amendments which have been proposed by the committee and then vote to pass the legislation.
3. Vote to “Defer.” This generally kills the legislation then and there. However, parliamentary procedures to “discharge the committee from further consideration” can be employed by the full body to bring a bill out of committee for action by the full body.
4. Vote to “Make no recommendation.” That rarely happens.
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