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North Dakota Legislature aims to save days in home stretch

North Dakota Legislature aims to save days in home stretch

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North Dakota state Capitol

The North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck is offset by flowers in full bloom in June 2018.

BISMARCK — North Dakota’s Legislature is working to bank several days this session to give lawmakers a cushion later in the year to approve new legislative districts and to decide how to spend expected federal coronavirus aid.

The North Dakota Constitution limits the Legislature to 80 days of meetings every two years. May 4 is the adjournment deadline this session. But legislative leaders hope to finish with eight days to spare.

Friday would have been the Legislature’s 58th business day, but the House and Senate skipped the gaveled opening to save a day for later.

No floor sessions were scheduled to vote on bills. Only lawmakers on appropriations committees met Friday, while most other senators and House members were absent, using the time for an extended Easter weekend.

Saving days by not taking votes is only sometimes used by the Legislature but it is increasingly seen by some lawmakers as skirting the state's constitution. The move may be challenged in court at some point, though legislative lawyers believe it's allowed.

The Legislature already preserved two business days during the first week of the session that began Jan. 5. The first week is dominated by speeches, with limited floor votes.

As the session heads to its home stretch, the Legislature’s goal of adjourning early will be a chore even with the extra time, because lawmakers have several measures and unfinished budget bills still to work through.

Much of the remaining time will be spent in conference committees to reconcile differing versions of dozens of bills endorsed in both chambers.

After the Legislature adjourns, a panel of North Dakota lawmakers will begin the job of redrawing legislative districts, which is done every 10 years after a federal census. It aims to ensure that each member of the Legislature represents about the same number of people.

The full Legislature would finish the redistricting job during a special or reconvened session. Lawmakers have the option of reconvening or asking the governor to call a special session.

The process would take a minimum of three legislative days, and the Legislature’s Republican leaders have said they want to use the session’s expected remaining time to accomplish the task.

A reconvened session of the Legislature would count against the constitution’s limit of 80 days of meetings every two years, while a special session would not.

North Dakota’s Legislature ended its longest session ever in 2013, when it logged the maximum 80 days allowed. Lawmakers met for more than 20 hours straight on the last day of that session.

The 2019 session lasted 76 days.

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