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A delayed bill for regulating medical marijuana in North Dakota was forwarded out of the Senate’s Delayed Bills Committee Friday morning.

“We’re gonna get er done,” Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said of Senate Bill 2344.

The 82-page bill, which will be heard before the Senate Human Services Committee in the next few weeks, includes the text of Measure 5, the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in November. However, significant portions of it have been reworded to clarify the statute for governing the licensing and use of the substance.

To be heard sooner, on Wednesday in the House Human Services Committee, is a bill that would ban discrimination in North Dakota based on sexual orientation.

Similar bills have failed in recent sessions. The state’s first openly gay lawmaker, Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, said supporters are fired up in anticipation of the latest round of debate on the topic.

The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights reports that from June 1, 2015, to Jan. 19, 2017, the agency received 17 calls related to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Those will be provided as evidence,” Boschee said.

Opponents have argued that such legislation would create a special class in state law and open the door to litigation against business owners who refuse service to gay and lesbian couples based on their religious beliefs.

Differences noted

Lawmakers have observed a sharp difference early on in how Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration deals with the Legislature compared with previous administrations.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said Burgum and his staff have been far less visible to lawmakers than he and others remember with former Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

“Style has been very hands-off. It’s something that all my colleagues have noticed,” said Nathe, adding that it’s not a criticism of the new administration.

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Most previous governors, including Dalrymple, had years of legislative experience prior to joining the executive branch. Some, including John Hoeven, had other state government experience prior to taking over the state’s top elected post. Burgum comes with no prior experience in public office but decades in the private sector, many as an executive.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, said so far he’s had one sit-down meeting with Burgum to provide input on tax policy. He said the difference has been noticeable in the Senate as well.

For him, there’s been less contact primarily because only about half as many tax-related bills are going through the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee he chairs this session compared with the more than 30 that passed through last session.

“He’s got his own style,” Cook said. “This entire session is different.”

In touching on interaction with Burgum’s administration and the overall workload of the session so far, Cook pointed to the clock in the Senate chamber. He said, in recent sessions, he’d never have time to be sitting at his desk on the chamber floor at 11 a.m.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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