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Legislative special session convenes Monday

The North Dakota Legislature will meet in special session next week to confer on a number of topics.

JSSP Generic Sun

The special session of the North Dakota Legislature promises to pose some challenges for the senators and representatives called back to Bismarck on Monday, Nov. 8, according to Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington and House majority leader.

"We have a lot of subject matter to cover," he said. "There will be a lot of long days."

There have been 21 bills submitted in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate.

Pollert said not all bills will be heard during the special session. That decision is left to the Delayed Bills Committee, made up of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which will begin meeting Monday morning shortly after Gov. Doug Burgum presents the State of the State message.

One of the tasks of the Delayed Bills Committee will be to reduce duplication of bills. For example, nine bills outlawing mandates for COVID vaccines have been introduced all in the House of Representatives. Pollert said that will likely be reduced to one or two versions for consideration.

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"We are trying for this to be an expedited process but also to make sure everybody is heard," he said. "We could limit testimony on some bills."

Redrawing the map for the North Dakota legislative districts is the primary reason the special session was called. The United States and North Dakota constitutions require the districts be redrawn to reflect the populations determined by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years. There have been special legislative sessions every year following the census since 1991.

Another major task of the special session will be approving a spending plan for the North Dakota share of the federal American Recovery Plan Act funds. Interim committees in the House and Senate have been reviewing requests that totaled about $9 billion for the estimated $1 billion available to North Dakota.

Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said committee work has gone on for three weeks.

"Obviously it is a big part of the session," he said.

Other members of the Legislature are waiting to review the final proposals.

"I am hoping to get more details on the spending bills," said Rep. Mitch Ostlie, R-Jamestown, regarding the information furnished to the members of the Legislature so far.

Another bill that may be considered by the special session would change the way investments from the Legacy Fund in North Dakota are made. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, who did not respond to calls seeking comments.

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Connie Ova, CEO of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., said the bill would be good for economic development in North Dakota by "creating a pathway to invest (Legacy Fund money) in good projects."

Investment by the Legacy Fund is considered one possibility to provide financing for Bison World, the planned $72.5 million theme and cultural park planned for Jamestown.

Wanzek said he is in favor of additional investment in North Dakota from the Legacy Fund but the bill authorizing the investment was just passed this spring.

"There is some frustration in it not being implemented as fast as some would like," he said. "I'm hopeful the State Investment Board is aware of that process and make a pathway for North Dakota investments."

Ostlie said he hoped the bill would expedite the actions of the State Investment Board so they "get something done sooner than later."

Other bills will also compete for attention in the special session. Whether any of them will get past the Delayed Bills Committee won't be known until the session gets underway.

One topic which drew a lot of attention by legislators is outlawing any mandate requiring COVID vaccinations. Nine of the 26 bills introduced are on this topic.

"I have been getting several calls and discussions about the vaccine mandate by executive order," said Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown. "Some people are worried about losing their jobs if they don't get vaccinated. I am hopeful we will come up with some tools to protect employees who don't want to take it for religious or philosophical reasons."

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Several bills were also introduced regarding teaching critical race theory and human behavior in schools, a change to election security, a change to taxes on raffles and banking provisions related to information being forwarded to the Internal Revenue Service.

Pollert said he hoped to work through whatever bills are approved by the Delayed Bills Committee in five days.

"We will be working nights," he said. "We need to make sure everybody's voice gets heard."

Finishing the special session by Friday evening seems to be the hope of all the legislators, according to Sen. Cole Conley, R-Jamestown.

"I don't think anyone wants to make this a marathon," he said.

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