Conference committees are in full force as North Dakota lawmakers enter the last couple weeks of their legislative session. 

One of those is on the governor's office budget, from which the House stripped a Senate provision allowing Gov. Doug Burgum to not accept his salary. House budget writers instead gave Burgum $274,112 for the next two years. 

Burgum, as a candidate in 2016, pledged to reject his salary as governor to help "cut runaway government spending." But House lawmakers say a governor rejecting a salary sets a bad precedent for future candidates and would leave the lieutenant governor with no salary if the governor resigned or died.

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, said the governor declining a salary is not unique to North Dakota and could show savings of more than $500,000 in one four-year term. 

"One of the things that I've always thought is that executives should be able to lead by example," Hogue said. 

Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, questioned if "lead by example" implies the next governor or state employees should forgo salaries. 

"What it means to me is that you have enough money that you don't need it," Martinson said. 

The conference committee will meet again. Monday is day 67 of up to 80 legislative days for lawmakers.

Tribal cultural preservation

The Senate on Thursday concurred on House amendments to a resolution brought by Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, to study tribal practices in identification and preservation of tribal cultural sites.

The resolution essentially urges the Indian Affairs Commission to conduct the study from the adopted resolution. 

Heckaman said she has spoken with Indian Affairs Commission executive director Scott Davis and will soon visit with Spirit Lake Nation's tribal historic preservation officer. 

"I think it's workable for the Indian Affairs Commission to be the lead on this," Heckaman said.


Gov. Burgum on Thursday signed a bill seeking a uniform approach to public entities' cybersecurity, including cities, counties and institutions of higher education using the statewide network.

“This important investment in 21st century critical infrastructure recognizes the increasingly digital world in which we live and the growing nature of cybersecurity threats,” Burgum said in a statement.

Testimony on the bill showed the state defends against more than 5 million cyber attacks a month.

Human service zones

The Senate on Friday concurred 46-1 on a bill reforming county social services into as many as 19 multi-county "human service zones," after House amendments.

The plan continues the state's efforts to pick up the cost of social services.

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Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said the bill's House amendments included zones' ability to choose their legal counsel from state's attorneys, changing the number of county employees transferred to state employment and giving the state Department of Human Services more control over zone directors.

Another amendment also removes a requirement that Burleigh and Morton counties be together in a zone. Counties with more than 60,000 people may be their own zone. 

The bill goes to Gov. Burgum.

Judicial budget

A conference committee will soon meet again to discuss differences on adding a judgeship to the South Central Judicial District, which covers Burleigh and Morton counties. 

The judicial district has had a shortage of two or three judges since at least 2009, according to weighted caseload studies.

The committee will also address Senate amendments that fund a $970,000 remodel of the North Dakota Supreme Court Law Library in the state Capitol's Judicial Wing.

Counting down

Burgum has signed 377 bills and vetoed two bills, according to his office, with one veto overridden by the Legislature.

According to figures from Legislative Council, lawmakers still had about 160 bills left after Thursday's floor sessions, including 75 in conference committees.

Lawmakers have also adopted 47 resolutions. More than 900 bills and resolutions were introduced in North Dakota's 2019 legislative session.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.