Throughout session, lawmakers are changing bills to balance the budget and make sure what is passed is right for the state. Once the legislative session hits their bill crossover deadline, there are no more open committees held. That is when the public has a chance to give our legislators their opinion on potential new laws. Past that point, the original intent of the bill should not be changed. Our Malique Rankin went to the capitol to find out what happens when lawmakers change it anyway.

Malique: When House Bill 1320 was first introduced, it was related to the Red River Valley Water Supply Contract Terms. Now, it’s unrecognizable, with the intent changed to fund the Theodore Roosevelt President Library. 

We wondered if these major funding changes made the bill unconstitutional. KX News started questioning lawmakers Thursday—today, their plans for the bill changed.

Rep. Daniel Johnston; (R) Kathryn: “Somebody discovered that this could be a constitutional violation and legal council provided us with some documents that would indicate that it is.”

The language of our state constitutional seems black and white: 

No bill may be amended on its passage through either the House in a manner which changes the general subject manner.

The legislative director says the rules of the legislative manual can bend.

John Bjornson; Director of Legislative Council: “The rule is an interpretation by the body and the presiding officer.”

Earlier this week, the Senate passed the bill’s amendments, those changes included 50 million dollars in funding for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential library.
The Senate majority leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson introduced the amendment.

Rep. Daniel Johnston; (R) Kathryn: “Again, I’m not going to comment on Senator Wardner or what he thought or what he knew..”

John Bjornson says when a bill is passed, it’s presumed constitutional.
If challenged, the Supreme Court would make the final call.

John Bjornson; Director of Legislative Council: “And it takes 4 out of the 5 supreme court justices to declare is unconstitutional.”

Because of the question of constitutionality, lawmakers have removed HB 1320 from their schedules for now. I’m told the funding for the presidential library will be incorporated into the governor’s budget so that if it passes, it will be legal. 

We asked you at home if you thought lawmakers should be able to changes bills without the chance for public input. The answer was an overwhelming NO. Well over 700 people voted against this practice and just 29 saying it was ok.

If a bill were to pass unconstitutionally, this would actually be unchartered territory for the state legislature. There is currently no precedent in place on how this is handled. 

We reached out to the Governor’s office for their stance on the major changes to the House Bill. The Presidential Library has been a major priority for Governor Doug Burgum since he made his budget address in December. The Governor’s office said they will not comment on the issue.