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Bill to reimburse North Dakota lawmakers' meals turned into study

Bill to reimburse North Dakota lawmakers' meals turned into study

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Rep. Keith Kempenich R-Bowman, holds a can of Spaghettios left anonymously at his desk in the House chamber recently. 

A proposal to reimburse North Dakota lawmakers for meals could end up being put on ice.

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, introduced House Bill 1424 to the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. The bill would reimburse state lawmakers from outside of Bismarck for meals on days in session, costing taxpayers about $424,000, according to a legislative estimate.

Kempenich offered an amendment to the committee to change the bill into an optional, two-year study of lawmakers' pay and expense reimbursements, including money for meals. He was the only person to testify on the bill; one man submitted written opposition.

"I had Bismarck legislators questioning, because they're up here all during the lunchtime, and then there got to be a discussion about our reimbursement in general on like motels and stuff like that," Kempenich told the committee. "So there is some questions where we're at in general on reimbursement as far as outside of per diems."

Kempenich has said meal reimbursements would appeal to younger people considering serving in the Legislature, and that only lawmakers can make the move.

The Associated Press reported Kempenich has been eating $1 cans of spaghetti for lunches after new state government ethics laws curtailed lavish, lobbyist-funded meals.

The committee adopted the amendment and gave the bill a 10-2 do-pass recommendation, after earlier defeating a do-not-pass vote 8-4 on the original bill.

"It'll be called the 'Oh, no, Spaghettios' bill," Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, joked with the committee, referring to the canned pasta brand's slogan.

Fellow lawmakers left cans of spaghetti on Kempenich's House desk in jest following his comments to the AP last month. A Bismarck man who has volunteered at a soup kitchen started a mock fundraiser online to raise money to feed state lawmakers, who are paid $518 a month, plus $186 per day during a session or in an interim meeting.

Lawmakers also receive a session lodging reimbursement of about $1,800 a month, and they're reimbursed mileage expenses at 57.5 cents per mile. The average lawmaker compensation, including salary and health benefits, was about $41,500 in 2019, the last session year, according to data provided by Legislative Council.

The bill now goes to the House for a vote. 

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

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