North Dakota has been under a state of emergency because of the pandemic for 306 days. Some lawmakers say it’s been too long.
“A state of emergency is designed for something that’s very transient, very urgent and in the moment,” Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker said.
Gov. Doug Burgum instituted a state of emergency on March 13 last year. Under that declaration North Dakota law expands his powers in a few key ways: He can issue executive orders that have the force of law, use available government resources “as reasonably necessary to manage the emergency,” suspend the sale of alcohol, cite infractions to anyone who violates orders and more.
Since mid-March of 2020, he’s instituted just over 70 executive orders, some of which terminated others.
Rep. Becker and Republican Hazelton Rep. Jeff Magrum are among a handful of lawmakers seeking to end the state of emergency with a vote. They can do that with a concurrent resolution, according to century code.
“To get things back to normal, I think people are ready for it. I think the pandemic is under control, so we’d just like to end the emergency declaration and have a normal life again,” Magrum said.
But it’s not that simple. In a statement, the governor says ending the declaration will create all kinds of unintended problems, for instance, by “…jeopardizing the state’s ability to access additional federal funding, relief and resources such as PPE and testing supplies, in turn jeopardizing the health and safety of our citizens and the economy.”
Ending the state of emergency would also call into question whether the National Guard can be reimbursed by the Emergency Commission for its role in providing aid during the pandemic.
The Commission can only cover those costs if they can “conclusively presume” an emergency exists, which would be in the air if the resolution passes.
Currently, COVID-19 emergencies remain in effect for 49 of 50 states and the federal government.
Becker says he expects the resolution to have a hearing early next week.