The North Dakota Legislature entered a new phase of the session this week, with the deadline passing on Monday for representatives to introduce new bills.
That’s shifting the session out of the flurry of introductions that’s dominated the first few weeks — with many Grand Forks representatives a primary or co-sponsor on dozens of pieces of legislation. Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, for instance, appears to have his name attached to more than 60 bills and resolutions.
Perhaps the most closely watched is the state’s plan to spend on infrastructure, with proposed interest rates and spending levels that have shifted in recent weeks as legislators have come closer to striking a deal. For Grand Forks observers, those moves have largely been seen as a disappointment — lower available funds and hiking available interest rates — and could scuttle short-term hopes for infrastructure spending.
Legislators this week have jumped into far more, though, too. Here’s a look at what else leaders have been doing:
Bochenski weighs in
The city of Grand Forks is constantly involved with the Legislature, tracking scores of bills on its website that directly or indirectly affect the city. But Mayor Brandon Bochenski, elected in 2020, is entering his first session. He dipped a toe directly into state lawmaking for the first time this month with testimony on Gov. Doug Burgum’s state of emergency.
House Concurrent Resolution 3007 aims to end the state of emergency that was declared by Burgum at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s backed by a group of conservative lawmakers, with primary sponsorship from Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, who has questioned whether an emergency declaration granting extraordinary executive powers remains appropriate for such a long time.
Bochenski, in Jan. 19 written testimony, compared it to his own, local emergency declaration, and said it’s been an effective and necessary way to help move the state forward.
“Though we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with the recent start of community vaccinations, the (emergency declaration) is still needed from Governor Burgum over the next several months,” he wrote, listing it as an important component in boosting local testing, contact tracing, vaccinations and more.
Rep. Zach Ista, D-Grand Forks, is a primary sponsor of a bill that would scale down the penalty for the consumption and possession of alcohol for minors and those younger than 21 — scaling the penalty down from a Class B misdemeanor to an infraction.
The bill has a remarkable amount of support from Grand Forks legislators. Of the 10 legislators who are co-sponsoring the bill, eight of them are from the city; it's fully two-thirds of the Grand Forks delegation.
“When the Legislature took a look at the marijuana laws in the recent past, they ended up making it an infraction-level offense to have that small amount of marijuana,” Ista said. The change in the alcohol offense, he said, means more consistency, and removes the threat of jail time.
“Instead of using that heavy hand of the threat of incarceration, we can deal with the underage drinking through an infraction-level offense,” he said, adding that the issue had been raised for local lawmakers by district court judges.
The bill is scheduled to receive a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 25.
A bill that would grant in-state university tuition to out-of-state military reservists and National Guard members appears on the way to passage, with overwhelming 84-6 approval in the House last Friday. The most recent bill-tracking data on the Legislature’s website indicates the Senate received the bill this past week.
The bill, which would also extend in-state tuition to those reservists’ and National Guard members’ spouses and dependents, was widely pitched as a way to help boost enrollment at public universities.
"Hopefully we can bring more people into the state with that,” said Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, a co-sponsor of the bill.