The North Dakota Legislature has finished work on bills in its respective chambers, and when the session resumes Wednesday after a recess, lawmakers will be faced with hundreds more measures in what’s known as “crossover.” That’s when senators will begin working on House bills, and vice versa.
Here’s a look at some highlights as the Legislature approaches its second half:
Bonding: A proposed bonding package aimed largely at financing infrastructure projects across the state will come before the Senate. The $680 million package relies on earnings from the state’s voter-approved oil tax savings account to pay for the borrowed money. The measure won overwhelming approval in the House. But only after the original $1.1 billion bonding package was slashed by House budget writers after grumbling among some lawmakers who believed it had too many unnecessary extras, called “Christmas tree” items.
Legacy Fund investments: Bipartisan legislation aimed at creating a broader investment policy for the state’s voter-approved oil tax savings account will be debated by the Senate. The bill would tap 20% of future oil tax collections coming into the Legacy Fund to help establish loans for infrastructure projects and provide capital for in-state companies.
Recreational marijuana: The Senate will consider bills to legalize, restrict and tax recreational marijuana. Backers of the legislation are trying to get ahead of citizen-initiated efforts to legalize marijuana in the state Constitution. North Dakota voters in 2018 soundly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative that also included a provision that would wipe out past pot-related convictions. Despite the Legislature’s efforts, recreational marijuana proponents are hoping to get a measure on the ballot next year that would allow residents to grow pot for personal uses.
Masks: The Senate will consider a measure that would prohibit state or local governments from mandating face coverings. The House bill also prohibits “making use of a face mask, shield, or covering a condition for entry for education, employment, or services.” Backers of the legislation argue there is no proof that masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and they questioned the government’s role in mandating them. After North Dakota went from worst to the nation’s second-lowest case rate, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in January not only relaxed limits on the number of people who can gather at restaurants and bars but also allowed a statewide mask mandate to expire.
Transgender sports: The North Dakota Senate will consider a House bill that critics say discriminates against transgender student athletes. Supporters say the legislation would ensure fairness in girls sports and support Title IX, a 1972 federal law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in school activities that receive federal money. The bill would prohibit public schools from allowing a person under 18 to participate on a high school girls or boys team exclusively for the opposite sex. The bill would allow girls to participate in school sports for boys.
Seat belts: The North Dakota House will consider whether to tighten the state’s seat belt law to allow police to pull over anyone they see driving unbuckled — or any of their passengers. The so-called primary-enforcement idea has been rebuffed repeatedly in the Republican-led Legislature in the past, but senators have given the bill a thumbs-up. North Dakota’s current law is a ″secondary enforcement″ provision, meaning that police may not pull over a motorist simply because they see him or her driving without a seat belt. State law already allows authorities to pull over drivers younger than 18 if they are seen driving unbuckled. Thirty-four states have a primary enforcement seat belt law.
Gas tax: Senators will review a proposal to add another 3 cents per gallon to the tax drivers pay when they fill up at the pump in North Dakota. Revenue raised through the tax hike would help fund road and bridge improvements. The measure also seeks to raise the annual fee on electric vehicles from $120 to $200, on hybrid vehicles from $50 to $100 and on electric motorcycles from $20 to $50.
Annual session: North Dakota’s House will decide if it’s a good idea for the Legislature to meet annually instead of every other year. Senators approved the bipartisan measure, which was amended to allow lawmakers to meet annually — if they choose — but only over the next two years.
Emergency orders: The House will consider legislation that would limit emergency or disaster declarations and allow the Legislature more oversight of the executive branch action. The bill would limit such a declaration to 30 days. It could be extended another 30 days if the governor calls a special session of the Legislature, which could be held virtually. The legislation was inspired by a rash of executive orders filed by Burgum, most in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Breastfeeding: Women may breastfeed in public in North Dakota if they do so “in a discreet and modest manner.” Senators will consider a bipartisan bill aimed at removing that language that backers say is outdated. A nearly identical bill was rebuffed by the Republican-controlled Legislature two years ago, even after a small army of moms with babes in arms descended on the Capitol to push for reform.
Stand your ground: A bill aimed at easing restrictions on citizens’ right to use deadly force in self-defense will be debated in the Senate. The proposal to remove the so-called “duty to retreat” provision is the latest attempt by conservative lawmakers to modify the state’s “castle law,” which allows a person to stand their ground and use whatever force necessary to protect themselves or their home. Another bill that would allow law-abiding adults to carry hidden firearms at sporting and athletic events was turned into a study by the House.