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State lawmakers from Grand Forks worry term limits will impact institutional knowledge in Legislature

The top concern identified by Grand Forks lawmakers is the ability for legislators to gain and pass down institutional knowledge about legislative processes and issues affecting North Dakota.

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GRAND FORKS – State lawmakers from Grand Forks worry that the introduction of term limits for legislators will cause more problems than the new constitutional amendment solves in the long run.

“It felt like it was a solution looking for a problem,” said Sen. Scott Meyer, a Republican representing District 18.

On Nov. 8, North Dakota voters approved Measure 1, which adds an article to the state Constitution limiting the governor and state legislators to eight years in office. Lawmakers will be able to serve eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Statewide results show the measure received 63.4% yes votes and 36.6% no votes.

The top concern identified by Grand Forks lawmakers is the ability for legislators to gain and pass down institutional knowledge about legislative processes and issues affecting North Dakota.

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I will continue to work to maintain the level of integrity that this award brings to honor all previous recipients.

“After this goes down the road a little bit, you’re not going to have institutional knowledge that it takes to bring to the next group of participants, the next group of people that are elected,” said Sen. Curt Kreun, a Republican representing District 42.

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Curt Kreun
Curt Kreun

Rep. Zachary Ista, a Democrat representing District 43, said he will respect what voters want, but he did not vote in favor of the measure. He has concerns about what voices will fill the spaces left when long-term lawmakers run out of time.

“With such frequent turnover, you’ll lose people with long experiences, subject matter and expertise,” said Ista. “Oftentimes, those gaps get filled by paid lobbyists or unelected officials in the executive branch.”

Zac Ista district 43 representative .jpg
North Dakota District 43 Rep. Zac Ista, D-Grand Forks. (Submitted photo)

Meyer agrees.

“That vacuum will be filled by lobbyists, agencies and bureaucrats,” said Meyer.

Scott Meyer
Sen. Scott Meyer (Photo provided by North Dakota Legislative Council)

The constitutional amendment goes into effect on Jan. 1. A lack of experienced lawmakers will not be a problem initially, according to Rep. Claire Cory, Republican from District 42, but once lawmakers with decades of experience are phased out, new leaders will have to step up.

“It takes time to adapt and learn everything, so what you're going to see is inexperienced and new legislators taking those leadership roles,” she said.

011721.N.GFH.Claire Cory
Rep. Claire Cory (Photo provided by North Dakota Legislative Council)

North Dakota operates on a biennium cycle, meeting for a maximum of 80 days every two years. After eight years in office, legislators will have been in regular legislative session for a total of 320 days.

Ista says legislators will have to learn faster to keep up during their limited time in the Legislature.

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“There’s no room to get your sea legs before you dive headlong into the legislative work anymore, and that’s fine,” said Ista. “We’ll be able to adapt to those changes, and hopefully it encourages people to run that recognize an ability in themselves to do that.”

Republican Sen. Jonathan Sickler, appointed to represent District 17 in June 2022, says newcomers to the Legislature, like himself, will have to understand the system within their first one or two legislative sessions to be able to contribute.

“The Legislature as an institution is going to need to develop efficient and effective ways to onboard large amounts of new members every session,” he said.

Moving forward, some worry there will not be enough candidates to run for public office every eight years.

“In the world of social media, I think less and less people are willing to raise their hand and go out and serve their community or their state,” said Meyer. “With that kind of toxic environment that social media brings, it’s looked at as, ‘Well, why get in that mess?’”

Kreun says constant criticism of elected officials reduces the pool of applicants for Legislative positions.

“The way it is now, you get criticized for anything you do, no matter if you’re good or bad or in between. A lot of people don’t like that,” he said.

The constitutional amendment limits lawmakers to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate, so some expect legislators to run for another eight years in the other chamber after completing their first eight years.

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“You will see some lawmakers that will serve their eight in one chamber and their constituents will ask them to go back and serve in the other chamber,” said Meyer. “There may be some that just say, ‘Hey, I’m done with my eight and moving on.’ I would fall into that category."

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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