Special Sessions becoming more of a “when” than “if” situation

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 3:40 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The need for a special legislative session is becoming less “if” it will happen, and more of a “when.”

Lawmakers are expected to be called back to Bismarck sometime this fall to redraw legislative districts.

But it may not be the only special session North Dakota will see this calendar year.

Those extra days come with a cost to the taxpayers, and the legislature isn’t sure how many days they’ll need.

Imagine trying to organize a party for 141 people, but rather than it being a house party, it’s in the House of Representatives.

Every census, the Constitution calls for legislative district lines to be redrawn to ensure the same number of people are living within those districts.

But redrawing those lines may take more time than expected, and that means we might have a special session on the horizon.

To pass the new district lines, lawmakers need to draw them and handle them like any bill during a session.

But that can’t happen whenever they want. The legislature needs to schedule it so lawmakers can vote.

“We have 141 legislators that have lives to live between now and the end of the year, and they are wondering what kind of bookends are we looking at regarding a special or reconvened session,” Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said.

Each session is given a cap of 80 days to complete the work.

But the last session ended four days early, and they can be used whenever necessary until the next session in two years.

They can use them to draw and pass the new district lines, but leadership members don’t want that.

“I don’t know why we even had that discussion. If it was up to me, my opinion would be we want to save those four days for an emergency of some sort should we have to act quickly as we’re going down the road here,” Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, said.

But that’s not the only special session we could see this year.

North Dakota received more than a billion dollars in federal aid in the American Rescue Plan, and a new law says the legislature needs to reconvene and approve how it’s spent.

However, relaxing deadlines could allow North Dakota to wait until the next session.

“Right now, we’re kind of in limbo, just kind of following and trying to see what would be the best move, and we’ll keep everybody posted,” Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said.

According to state estimates, each day in special session costs taxpayers $100,000.

If all goes well, lawmakers are expecting to use three days.

There are even more question marks as to when these special sessions will actually take place.

Some within the legislature are skeptical as to when the census data will be available.

This means redistricting may be pushed back by months.

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