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Lawmakers considering changing a law they passed a few months ago

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 4:29 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The bill holding back more than a billion dollars in federal aid is getting a closer look and could be on the path to being changed.

Last session, the state legislature passed a new law which changed the governor’s powers, and gave spending authority back to the legislature, but lawmakers are finding holes that need plugging.

When state lawmakers passed SB 2290, they thought they were balancing powers with Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D.

The state was receiving billions to fight COVID, but lawmakers wanted more of a say in where the money went.

Supporters say the bill is good policy, but they admit there are unintended consequences.

The bill was a response to the billions of dollars coming into the state with the CARES Act and other massive federal stimulus plans.

But, with North Dakota out of a State of Emergency and with billions more to spend, lawmakers are re-thinking the emergency spending process.

“Simply stated, there is no emergency and there is no urgent timeline that prevents the legislative assembly from exercising its constitutional duty to appropriate first,” said Sen. David Hogue, the primary sponsor of the bill.

The new law says any federal package larger than $50 million must be approved by the full legislative body, but they only meet every two years.

Lawmakers gave the Emergency Commission $50 million for the whole interim, because they were worried the executive branch would break up the money into chunks to avoid triggering a special session.

“My response to that is, ‘we’re not that stupid.’ We can add. So that kind of bothered me personally a little bit, but I did vote for the bill,” Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said.

Now, lawmakers are saying that threshold is too low, because the amounts would call for special sessions more than once a year.

So, they have decided to wait months to allocate the federal aid, or even wait until next session in 2023.

Before then, a group of legislators is considering a change to the law, including doubling the special session trigger to $100 million.

A committee will be meeting again in September and hope to have changes proposed by Oct. 1, which would be just in time for an official change to the law during the special session in November.

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