There’s a little known bill that seems to be getting a bit more attention in recent days on social media. It’s House Bill 1505 and is sponsored by Rep. Keith Kempenich (R – District 39). It’s pretty straightforward. If passed, it would add to existing law and allow legislators to be reimbursed for meals during legislative sessions. It reads:
“In addition, each member of the legislative assembly may claim reimbursement for meals as provided under section 44-08-04 for each day during any organizational, special, or regular legislative session.”
As it stands now, current law only allows legislators to be reimbursed for meals during the interim when they have committee meetings or on other state business. This would expand on that, but would utilize the existing rate of $35/day while in session.
As you can see by the attached fiscal note, the estimated cost would be about $401,496. This estimate:
“… is based on 127 legislators living outside of Bismarck claiming meal reimbursement of $35 per day for 5 days during organizational session and $35 per day for 5 days for 17 weeks during the regular session. Amounts were not included for any meals that could be claimed for Saturday or Sunday travel nor were any amounts deducted for meals provided at no cost to legislators during the session which would not be claimed.”
If I’m reading current law correctly, these types of reimbursements are only available to those who are “engaged in the discharge of a public duty away from the claimant’s normal working and living residence.” Thus, the reason for just 127 of the 141 legislators being calculated into the fiscal note.
Just one example of a criticism I noticed on social media was this… The House defeated a bill just last week that would have created a Teacher Reimbursement Program with a maximum claim of $200/school year “for out of pocket expenses incurred by the teacher for school supplies and other necessary items not otherwise provided by the school district.” Would legislators have the audacity to give themselves meal reimbursements to the tune of about $2,800/session after rejecting the idea of teachers being reimbursed $200/school year for supplies?
Now, I’m certainly not advocating for the Teacher Reimbursement Program. But I do think it’s a fascinating point.
Let’s consider some other aspects of this issue though. Those legislators who don’t live in Bismarck are given a lodging reimbursement that maxes out at $1,682.00/month. For those who stay in hotels, they often enjoy free continental breakfasts. Lunches are often provided at no charge by various organizations while at the Capitol. And even some meals are provided in the evenings at social events that incur no cost to the legislators attending them. One legislator told me that they often spend less in a week on meals in Bismarck than they do at home, while working at their regular job.
Aside from all of this — and I know your employment may not be the same — but my employers have never offered meal reimbursements for every day I work.
We also shouldn’t forget that these same legislators are paid $177/day, are given mileage for weekend travel, and are offered the state’s health insurance package with 100% of its premium paid for by the state. And that’s not even mentioning the other reimbursement opportunities in existing law while on state business.
I certainly don’t think any of our legislators are getting rich while serving in Bismarck. But I do think they’re being compensated well. Do we really need to tack on free meals too? I don’t think so. Not to mention, it could certainly be viewed as a horrible political move to boot.
For your information, by a vote of 8-6, the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee gave the bill a Do Not Pass recommendation today.
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