Last week I began the last step of passing through the 60s for the second time. First, since I was born in 1950 I am a child of the ’60s (ages 10 through 20) and second, I just turned 69, therefore this will likely be the last year I’ll have to struggle through the 60s.
This is also the first time since 1983 that I will have avoided attending or lobbying the North Dakota Legislature. For those of you still stumbling with the math here that means I’ve spent over 36 years creatively lurking in the restrooms, hallways, committee rooms, cafeteria and various floors of our state Capitol.
The legislative process is often referred to as sausage-making, which is a process that can really ruin your appetite for sausage. I really did enjoy engaging in the people’s work so I can’t honestly say that I don’t miss it. So in hopes of staving off potential withdrawal symptoms I have been watching the process through the media because I learned early on in my career that nothing is safe when a Legislature is in session.
Once they convene everything is fair game, and we’re lucky to have one of the more open legislatures in the world. Every bill gets a public hearing, every motion discussed, every hearing recorded, every vote becomes public record, anyone can attend everything, and most importantly there are not supposed to be any private meetings when our Legislature is in session. Yes, there are off-site meetings, dinners, drinks and such, but the only votes that count are those taken and recorded in public hearings or sessions.
When I started this career my dad told me to read and know the rules, which made me appreciate that the only way laws are made is when lawmakers follow the rule of law. This process is America’s bedrock, it’s how we the people agree to live under the rule of law. And since our state Constitution says all this has to get done in 80 legislative days things have a tendency to get a bit hazy at times because the process eventually ends up something close to being inside a blender after someone hits the emulsify button.
From what I can tell, so far the session has started out like every other session with a number of sensational bills, like mandating Bible classes in public schools, allowing students with conceal and carry permits to carry their guns into the classroom, and such. Most sessions have bills like this that come with huge public interest (Remember taking north out of North Dakota?) and fade to nothing.
The tougher issues usually take time to expose themselves, and I predict that implementing the ethics defined by Measure 1 will be one of those because the legislators opposed it and the people passed it. I’ve always been proud to say that North Dakota is one of the most transparent states in the union. Back in the ’70s we passed a constitutional measure that cast sunshine over all public activities, and numerous groups/politicians have tried to pull the curtains shut because they can’t stand the sunshine.
Measure 1, which focuses on elected officials' ethics, was passed to reinforce our sunshine laws, and I’ve always thought that when doing the people’s work we the people have a right to know who did what to us, i.e., who brought who to the dance and who decided what dances would be danced —transparency. So I’ll be paying attention to the twists and turns on this issue and I suggest you do, too, because how it ends up will say a lot about the folks you and I sent to represent us in the Legislature.