NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Apparently, state lawmakers didn’t need all 80 days this time around.
Legislators adjourned early Sunday morning, capping off the most recent Legislative Session at 75 days.
It was a very late night, but North Dakota lawmakers adjourned for the final time just after 1:00 Sunday morning, finishing out the 68th Legislative Assembly. Lawmakers passed more than 500 bills, totaling just under $20 billion, sending them all to Governor Doug Burgum’s desk. This session, lawmakers approved over half a billion dollars in tax relief for people in the state, along with a $500 property tax credit.
“That will allow North Dakota residents to keep more of their hard-earned money,” stated Governor Burgum. “Our state is well positioned to grow our economy, strengthen our economies, and create a brighter future for all.”
Saturday was a late night, as lawmakers sparred over the $280 million office of management and budget plan. The bill is 62 pages and features an increase in how much of the Legacy Fund the state investment board would be authorized to spend.
“We sent a bill out of here saying we wanted to invest more of the principle and capped it at 5.6%,” said Representative Corey Mock. “Now they’re saying 8%.”
One of the longest fights of the session came over closing the state PERS-defined benefit plan and making an over $200 million payment to the fund, which is currently over $2 billion in debt. This bill also moves state employees over to a deferred compensation plan.
“We’re bound,” said Representative Mike Lefor in an early house debate. “There are over a billion reasons why we’re bound.”
Lawmakers also waded into hot-button issues like abortion, sex, and transgenderism. Both chambers approved bills banning transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public schools and colleges. Governor Burgum also signed bills restricting transgender students from using certain bathrooms and locker rooms, banning doctors from performing gender-changing surgeries, and passing Senate Bill 2150 — which bans abortions after six weeks,
“By criminalizing doctors and nurse practitioners for providing evidence-based best practice health care for transgender youth,” said Representative Josh Boschee, “and the right of parents to support their daughter’s decision for abortion care.”
One of the final bills acted on this session related to school funding. After Senate lawmakers rejected a bill asking for $6 million in grant money for school lunches to low-income students, lawmakers added the proposal to Senate Bill 2284.
“In some of the situations where parents aren’t feeding their kids,” explained Senator Donald Shcible, “they’re probably not going to go through the effort of filling out a form. So, in that case, the kids wouldn’t get that money either. At the end of the day, we had a lot of discussion, we caved to this issue, and that’s the way it goes. It’s a give and take.”
On Friday, the bill passed both chambers. Legislators also worked late into the weekend on a childcare funding bill. House Bill 1540 provides nearly $66 million to help cover the cost of childcare and was proposed as a way to try and address the current worker shortage in the state.
Lawmakers also voted green on funding around $2.5 billion to public schools. One of Governor Burgum’s seven vetoes came on a plan to fund $10 million to private schools for tuition reimbursement.
State lawmakers also passed a new corporate farming bill, allowing farmers and ranchers to organize and seek more investment in growing their operations.
“And when we had to talk about the anti-corporate farming law, and no options or opportunities to set up shop here, because all they wanted to do was partner with some farmers,” ND Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring said, describing a poultry operation which recently showed interest in coming to the state.
“So, this outside capital being able to flow into our family farms and ranches and help them develop,” stated Representative Paul Thomas, “whether it’s a larger cattle feeding operation, or a new swine barn or maybe even put up a larger dairy, that’s what this bill will help facilitate.”
Farmers can expect to hear future conversations about a new fertilizer plant as well — lawmakers approved $125 million for plans to build a new plant near Trenton.
“We’re buying 20 to 25% of our fertilizer from Russia,” stated Representative Mike Brandanburg. “And I’m just tired of supporting the Russia war machine by buying fertilizer to support their effort.”
The budget passed with a 65-16 vote on the floor — and marked the last action taken before lawmakers went home.
The governor also vetoed bills relating to sexually explicit materials in libraries, stopping ranked choice voting and freedom of choice for health care. As of Monday, Governor Burgum still has 45 bills to sign, and he has until May 19 to sign the remaining bills.