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North Dakota lawmaker imposes tongue-in-cheek $20 fine to encourage online participation

North Dakota lawmaker imposes tongue-in-cheek $20 fine to encourage online participation

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Weisz sign

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, stands next to a sign he placed on the door of the Pioneer Room in the state Capitol's Judicial Wing, where the House Human Services Committee meets.

Visitors to the House Human Services Committee room at the state Capitol are met by a sign warning of a $20 fine if they're not there to testify on bills.

The fine isn't enforceable, but at least one lawmaker wonders if it might turn people away from participating in the legislative process. 

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, who chairs the committee, said he put the sign on the Pioneer Room's door early in the legislative session to urge people to follow the committee's livestream online rather than attend and listen in person, given the coronavirus pandemic. The sign reads "Only people wanting to testify allowed in the room. Violators will be fined $20."

"We don't want people in here if they're not testifying, just from the standpoint it's hard to maintain the social distancing and we don't want to risk (it) because if one of us gets positive, this whole committee goes remote," Weisz said Wednesday.

He acknowledged the sign is "not enforceable. It's just to get their attention," but said committee chairmen have authority for regulating committee rooms. He said, "I've had a couple lobbyists that have contributed to the snack fund."

He said he put the sign up earlier this month "because the place was packed and nobody was paying attention." The sign has been effective, he said.

Legislative leaders ramped up livestreaming and remote technology with $2.64 million of federal CARES Act coronavirus aid. All committee meetings and House and Senate floor sessions are broadcast live at video.legis.nd.gov. People can testify remotely.

"We're still more open than any state in the country as far as people able to testify. Everything is livestreamed, so there's no reason if you're not testifying that you need to be physically in the room," Weisz said. He said reporters would be allowed.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, declined to comment, as he hadn't seen the sign or spoken to Weisz about it.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said if the sign gives "people pause, then we should probably review it and address it." 

"The goal is not to keep people out. I think the goal certainly is to keep large crowds from filling in a room," he said. 

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

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