BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called a special session Tuesday of the Republican-controlled Legislature to address a major budget bill struck down by the state Supreme Court last month, leaving a giant hole in state government operations lawmakers are rushing to fill.
The session will convene Monday. Burgum’s executive order for the session comes after the court ruled last week that it won’t delay its surprising Sept. 28 decision that invalidated the funding bill for the state Office of Management and Budget.
The bill, usually the last one passed in the biennial session, is traditionally used as a catchall or cleanup bill. The court said the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the state Constitution’s single-subject requirement for bills.
Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue has said the Legislature would convene for a three- to five-day session. Burgum’s order says the Legislature “should complete” its business by Friday, Oct. 27.
A top panel of lawmakers met Tuesday to discuss plans for the session, including a list of 14 bill drafts to resurrect the voided bill’s provisions and whether to allow new legislation to be introduced. The panel set a Thursday deadline for lawmakers to submit proposals for bills.
Burgum has directed state agencies not to retrieve already spent or transferred money from the voided bill and to refrain from actions requiring expenditures from the bill.
The 14 bill drafts cover myriad items including transfers from state government funds, K-12 education funding provisions, a special criminal penalty for supplying drugs resulting in overdose deaths and injuries, and details for transitioning the state’s public employee pension plan to a 401(k)-style plan for new hires.
Numerous state agencies had items in the voided bill, such as a $100 million line of credit for water project loans and $2 million for a newly established state immigration office.
The Legislature could have called itself back into session using the five days remaining from its 80-day limit every two years for session. Burgum’s office said legislative leaders asked him Friday to convene a special session, noting that “all legislation enacted during a special session called by the governor becomes effective on the date specified in the act.” Otherwise, any bill passed in a reconvened session would not take effect for 90 days unless two-thirds of the Legislature approves an emergency clause to give the bill immediate effect when signed by the governor.
Burgum in a statement said he expects the situation can be fixed before Nov. 1. The special session could pull the governor, who is running for president, off his campaign trail to focus on the legislation.
The bill contained about $322 million in 2023-25 budget items.
The Legislature did not budget for the upcoming special session, but could add money for it or use money budgeted for the 2025 regular session. A five-day November 2021 special session cost about $65,000 a day. The regular session costs about $80,000 a day.
Some lawmakers in Tuesday’s meeting expressed concerns about new legislation, preferring to limit the session to the voided bill. Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor said new bills would have to be emergent, “something that can’t wait” until the next session in 2025.
Burgum’s order mentions “strategic investments” in tax relief and infrastructure among purposes for the special session. Governor’s spokesperson Mike Nowatzki said he had no further details to release “at this time.”
Lefor said the leaders negotiated with Burgum for the special session “that we would listen to the governor” on subjects of energy, tax relief and infrastructure “in good faith,” but did not agree to advance specific proposals.
The Supreme Court ruled on the bill because of a lawsuit brought by the board that oversees the state’s government retirement plans. The board argued it is unconstitutional for state lawmakers to sit on the board, and targeted a section of the bill that increased legislative membership from two to four.
An all-Republican House-Senate panel negotiated the final version of the bill, which passed before 3 a.m. on a weekend, ending the session after four months.