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Raft of bills submitted ahead of North Dakota’s session

October 21, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Next month’s abbreviated session of the North Dakota Legislature is intended to finish the job of legislative redistricting and determine how federal coronavirus relief aid will be spent, though some lawmakers want to broaden the agenda.

More than two dozen bills have been submitted ahead of the session planned for Nov. 8, said John Bjornson, who heads the nonpartisan Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm.

The deadline for submitting the bills was last week. Details of the legislation, and sponsors, won’t be revealed until the bills are approved for introduction, which would happen shortly ahead of the special or reconvened session, Bjornson said.

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Several lawmakers told The Associated Press that much of the legislation has come from a loosely organized group of ultraconservative legislators known as the Bastiat Caucus, which supports limited government and gun rights.

Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker, who heads the caucus, said he was aware of a few bills from his group, and that most of the proposals, including one of his own, are aimed at preventing vaccine mandates in the state.

Any bills that are introduced will have to first win the endorsement of the House or Senate’s delayed-bills committee. The bipartisan panels both have five members and are controlled by the Legislature’s GOP leadership, which will limit the introductions of bills.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner and GOP House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said they want to limit the session’s agenda to a handful of subjects. Chief among them is legislative redistricting, a mandatory political task that defines the areas state lawmakers will represent for the next decade.

Also topping the list will be debate on how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid the state received this year. House and Senate appropriations committees are expected to finish prioritizing uses for the money next week, and forward the recommendations to the full Legislature for consideration.

The North Dakota Constitution limits the Legislature to 80 days of meetings every two years, and this year’s regular session used 76 days. That means if the Legislature calls itself back into session, lawmakers will have to shoehorn the redistricting job and federal coronavirus aid spending into just four days.

Each of those subjects would take a minimum of three legislative days to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature.

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Lawmakers have the option of reconvening or asking the governor to call a special session. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum and GOP legislative leaders have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss the possibility of a special session.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the discussions are ongoing.

A reconvened session of the Legislature would count against the constitution’s limit of 80 days of meetings every two years, while a special session would not.

Any legislation endorsed in a reconvened session would not take effect for 90 days after the Legislature approves it, unless the proposal draws support from two-thirds of the House and Senate.

It’s unclear if the redistricting bill — one of the most politically sensitive questions to be decided — would achieve that threshold.

A special session called by the governor would have no time limits, and any legislation could take effect immediately upon being approved by a majority vote.

Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple called a special session to deal with redistricting in 2011, and John Hoeven did so in 2001.

Legislators make $189 daily while in session. Each day they are in a special or reconvened session costs taxpayers about $64,000.