THE ONLOOKER: New session will bring ceremony, deadlines and distraction

The North Dakota Legislature begins its 64th session today. Today is mostly for ceremony. Wednesday, too. Even Thursday. Still, the business of lawmaking looms. This may seem to be a chaotic process, but the Legislature actually is governed by ru...

The North Dakota Legislature begins its 64th session today.

Today is mostly for ceremony. Wednesday, too. Even Thursday.

Still, the business of lawmaking looms.

This may seem to be a chaotic process, but the Legislature actually is governed by rules and deadlines. These are not entirely inflexible, but they are pretty rigid.

You can count on events developing on a predetermined schedule, and on legislation advancing against specific deadlines.


What you can't anticipate is the odd scrap of legislation that ignites a storm of publicity, and sometimes controversy.

My all-time favorite example occurred when I was a covering the 46th session for the Herald. That was in 1979.

A rancher in northwestern North Dakota discovered that he could sell frogs to biological supply houses, which passed them on to science labs in high schools and colleges.

Some legislator decided that this activity needed government regulation.

Actually, that was an especially rich session for outlandish legislation. I also covered a dust-up involving the State Board of Cosmetology. The issue was regulating the removal of unwanted body hair.

Nor can you anticipate the ebb and flow of emotion that always arises when human beings are kept in close quarters for long periods. You can't rule out an entertaining flare-up, although the rules of decorum generally minimize these. That only makes the odd outburst the more entertaining.

Once during a debate on a bill to ban the display of red flags, a western legislator rose to his full and considerable height and challenged an effete easterner to step outside so that an insult to patriotism could be avenged.

I've seen legislators weep. I've seen legislators pummeled by purses -- that during a debate on the Equal Rights Amendment. In the wee hours of one morning late in the session, I saw a legislator -- a Catholic nun -- faint from fasting. It was Good Friday. That same morning, another legislator passed out at his desk. No abstaining for him.


I've seen card games, heard impromptu concerts and watched much tomfoolery.

All of that is a sideshow. The important business proceeds along established lines.

Here are highlights of this year's schedule:

Today at 1 p.m., Gov. Jack Dalrymple will deliver his state-of-the-state address. You can count on a late start. There's much ceremonial gavel pounding and a parade of dignitaries.

The chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court reports on the state of the judiciary on Wednesday at 1.15 p.m. More gavel pounding. Another parade of dignitaries. Then a special award for Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, at age 80 just re-elected to another 10-year term on the court. He'll be inducted into the state's Roughrider Hall of Fame.

At 1.15 p.m. on Thursday, there's a final bit of ceremony, the Tribal-State Relationship address. The speaker will be Dave Archambault II, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The work of lawmaking proceeds around these ceremonies. Committees begin hearings this week, and newspapers soon will fill up with accounts of legislation and discussion of budgets.

By Jan. 19, representatives must have filed any bills they want considered. They are allowed only five during the week beginning Monday. The Senate has a similar rule, but senators get more time to introduce fewer bills. They are limited to three after Jan. 19, and none may contain appropriations. After Jan. 26, senators may not introduce additional bills.


Late-bill introductions are allowed, but only by suspending these rules. So, a delayed bill usually requires a pretty broad consensus if it is to get a hearing. Each and every bill is guaranteed a hearing. North Dakota doesn't allow pigeon-holing legislation.

The deadline for resolutions is Jan. 29. This deadline sometimes produces a flurry of petitions to Congress and memorials to various persons.

By the end of business on Feb. 9, all bills involving spending must to referred to Appropriations committees in the appropriate house.

Amendments to the constitution and resolutions asking for studies by the Legislative Council must be reported out by Feb. 24.

Crossover is Feb. 27. On that day, bills originating in one house must be sent to the other.

Then there's a break until March 4 and a new round of deadlines aimed at pushing the session toward adjournment by the 80th day. That's April 29 this year.

So, the show is under way! Enjoy.

Jacobs is the Herald's former publisher. For several years in the 1970s, Jacobs published a newspaper called The Onlooker about North Dakota politics. This weekly column resurrects the name -- and the spirit -- of that undertaking.

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