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North Dakota Legislature to reconvene Tuesday

BISMARCK – After a battle over health insurance for state workers, the North Dakota Legislature will reconvene Tuesday to consider approving a budget bill left hanging when legislators adjourned in April, a panel of lawmakers said Wednesday.

Legislative Management, a panel of legislators who met Wednesday over conference call, voted 16-1 to come back into session next week to consider the unresolved budget bill.

A special committee reached unanimous agreement on Monday on Senate Bill 2022, the more than $14 million appropriations bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System and the state Retirement and Investment Office.

The compromise would add two lawmakers - one from each party – to the seven-member board that oversees NDPERS.

The board drew criticism when it switched its health insurance contract from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota to Sanford Health Plan, a change that kicks in July 1.

The NDPERS plan covers more than 29,000 public employees and retirees and their family members at the state and local levels – nearly 66,500 insured lives in all, including state lawmakers.

Some legislators said they were conflicted about reconvening the Legislature.

“This is the sort of dysfunction and bending of the rules that we see in Washington, and we don’t expect it here in North Dakota,” said Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo. “I don’t want this to be a precedent set that we’re going to leave town and then come back in a month and finish the work that we left on the table.”

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he believes legislators are following the rules, but he said he would not argue that ending the session was “traditional or ideal.”

“I think all of us have learned some lessons from what has occurred and hopefully we will take them all to heart as we go into the 65th and subsequent sessions,” Holmberg said.

Lawmakers have used 78 of the 80 legislative days they’re allowed every two years under the state constitution, leaving two days to finish their business.

This would be the first time legislators have reconvened since lawmakers passed a bill in 1995 giving themselves that power. Lawmakers called themselves back into session in 1981, but that was done through a resolution for the purpose of redistricts after new census figures were released.