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North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, listens to floor debate during the most recent legislative session, which ended in late April. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

ND legislators still mulling whether to address Burgum vetoes

BISMARCK—North Dakota legislative leaders are still weighing whether to come back into session to address several vetoes handed down by Gov. Doug Burgum after the Legislature adjourned in late April.

The 17-member committee known as Legislative Management will ultimately decide whether to call lawmakers back to Bismarck, said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. That committee's chairman, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, is out of the country but will be back this week.

Wardner said Legislative Management could decide during a scheduled meeting May 31 or via a conference call before then. If lawmakers reconvene, they'd likely do so before July 1, the start of the new budget cycle.

In an email, Holmberg said he was traveling in Slovakia and was "not in touch with the latest turn of events since the vetoes were delivered." Burgum announced Wednesday he had vetoed at least parts of nine bills.

Returning to Bismarck would count toward the Legislature's constitutional limit of 80 days in regular session every two years. They adjourned on the 77th day, saving three days.

"If we use one of them to address the vetoes, we have nothing really left for (a) special session. You can't do anything in two days," Wardner said. "There are a lot of things to take into consideration."

Wardner said the only potential veto override that "has some wheels" is a section of the budget bill for the Department of University and School Lands that sets aside $16.1 million for townships in non-oil producing counties.

"Without demonstrated evidence of differentiated need or want, this exactly equal, across-the-board appropriation is both arbitrary and an inefficient use of our scarce financial resources," Burgum wrote in his veto letter.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he'd like to address Burgum's veto on sections of the budget bill for the Public Employees Retirement System. The governor vetoed a section of the bill that he said "forces early termination of the existing health contract for PERS members on June 30, 2019."

But Carlson, the vice chairman of Legislative Management, said "if we don't have a willing Senate, there's no reason to even attempt it." The Senate had been resistant to PERS changes but ultimately compromised in order to end the session early.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate said their members have expressed some interest in addressing the township funding.

"There's not a real strong desire in our caucus to come back," said House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks. "If we don't come back and address it in a veto session, hopefully there's a way even in the interim that we can provide some financial support for those townships."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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