BISMARCK — A bill introduced to the North Dakota Legislature earlier this week would allocate state funds to lawmakers to pay for the meals they eat during a legislative session.
House Bill 1424 would allow legislators to claim up to $35 each day for meals on days the Legislature is in session, including during special or organizational sessions. It would only apply to lawmakers who live outside of Bismarck, which is about 127 legislators.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, said he is introducing the bill in an effort to make legislative positions more accessible and reduce barriers for people who may want to run for office but are not wealthy.
"It's not that people up here are going hungry," Kempenich said. "If you're going to do this job and you're limited on other resources and stuff, it's kind of tough to do this, and it shouldn't be."
The bill comes after North Dakotans voted to create the North Dakota Ethics Commission in 2018 through a constitutional amendment, which says lobbyists cannot give any gifts to North Dakota lawmakers. The commission was made to help North Dakotans have stronger faith in their elected officials and government, according to the amendment. The "gifts" include meals.
Kempenich said the bill would not be applied retroactively and would only affect future sessions. Fiscal estimates show that the cost to the state for meals would be $401,496 for the 2023-25 biennium.
Lawmakers currently get $186 per day for regular, organizational and special sessions, according to the bill. They also are compensated for lodging during the session, which is set by the Office of Management and Budget on every even year.
Almost every job pays its employees for meals accrued on the road, and there is no reason why North Dakota lawmakers should be subject to anything different, Kempenich said.
Last session, the bill passed the House but was voted down in the Senate, Kempenich said, because many senators did not see it as a pressing issue. However, he said it should pass because it would show those who potentially want to run for office, including younger people, that it is accessible.
"You do not need to be wealthy to do this job," Kempenich said.
There was no hearing scheduled for the bill as of Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21.
Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.