BISMARCK — North Dakota senators overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday, Feb. 4, to curb the governor's emergency powers, legislation that follows a high volume of executive orders approved by Gov. Doug Burgum during the coronavirus pandemic that were criticized by many conservatives.
The vote on Senate Bill 2124 fell along party lines, drawing 40 votes in favor and 7 votes against. If passed, the bill would cap any emergency declared by the governor at 30 days, requiring any extension to be approved by the Legislature. It would also prevent the governor from declaring a new state of emergency in response to the same disaster after the original state of emergency expired.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, is a wide-ranging package among many efforts by North Dakota lawmakers this session to restrict the governor's executive authority during a state of emergency. Myrdal said her proposal is not related to the current governor or the COVID-19 pandemic, though many lawmakers have criticized the statewide mask mandate and business restrictions approved by Burgum last year.
"We have seen in this last year something that we hope not to revisit," Myrdal told lawmakers on the floor. "As a legislative assembly, we have found some gaps in the law where this bill is actually filling those gaps. The intent of this bill is to make it so every part of North Dakota is heard and represented during disasters like this."
Opposing the bill, Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, said it was reactive to the pandemic and could limit the state's ability to respond to other types of disasters in the future. She also stressed that "disasters don't have calendars" and noted lawmakers opted not to convene a special session last year in response to the state of emergency.
"We can and should be asking questions of the governor, especially for an emergency as long as this one," Bakke said. "But setting arbitrary limits on the governor's authority and substituting our judgements for that of experts on the ground is not the answer."
The bill advanced to the House after Thursday's vote.
Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.