We’re just over a month away from the one year anniversary of Governor Doug Burgum declaring a State of Emergency in response to COVID-19. And from the looks of things, it doesn’t appear the North Dakota Legislature will end it any time soon.
You may have heard that the State Senate passed Senate Bill 2124 earlier today by a veto-proof margin of 40-7. But don’t let that lead you to believe that there’s enough support for terminating the state of emergency. That’s not what the bill does. The legislature can only accomplish that via concurrent resolution.
If it becomes law — which is definitely a possibility — SB 2124 would limit the governor’s disaster and emergency declarations to 30 days. That could be extended to 60 days by the governor calling a special session of the legislature “before or on the thirtieth day of the declared state of disaster or emergency”. They could then terminate any declaration.
In addition to these limitations, other things worth noting are that SB 2124 would also:
- Stipulate that once a disaster or emergency is terminated “the governor may not declare another state of disaster or emergency for the same disaster or emergency conditions.”
- Prohibit the governor from placing restrictions on “money appropriated by the legislative assembly.”
- Authorize the legislature to “use any technology or electronic means available to conduct meetings and transact legislative business.” In other words, a “Virtual special session”.
These kinds of reforms are arguably needed. But again, passage of this bill wouldn’t end the current state of emergency.
One proposal that would end the state of emergency is Rep. Rick Becker’s (R – District 7) House Concurrent Resolution 3007. But that appears to be headed for defeat. The House Human Services Committee gave it a 9-5 Do Not Pass recommendation yesterday.
Based on the discussion in committee, it appears that opposition to Rep. Becker’s proposal primarily hinged on two things:
- That the state mask mandate and business restrictions are no longer in place. (Note: The mask mandate came from the State Health Officer, not the governor. Therefore, it would not have ended by terminating the state of emergency anyhow.)
- The risk of losing federal funding if the state of emergency were to be terminated.
Apparently additional SNAP funding (i.e. food stamps) is tied to the state of emergency being in place. According to Committee Chair Robin Weisz (R – District 14), the loss would amount to about $2.5 million per month.
With an expired mask mandate and onerous restrictions on businesses lifted, it seems like a number of legislators view the current state of emergency as little more than a funding mechanism. It’ll be a tough sell to get them to vote down “free money”.
And on top of all this, there’s also the reality that the mayor’s of North Dakota’s 13 largest cities all signed onto a memo opposing passage of Becker’s resolution.
Considering all of these things, it’s an easy prediction— HCR 3007 is doomed. I simply cannot see it passing the House.
Regardless, I hope we will not soon forget how our very own governor used his broad emergency powers to place strict limitations on businesses, close schools, and encourage mail-only voting. Just to name a few.
Change is desperately needed. And I believe the legislature has an obligation to ensure that happens— even if they see ending the current state of emergency as pointless.
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- EO 2020-03.pdf (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Bill Versions: SB 2124 (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Bill Versions: HCR 3007 (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Legislative Branch Video (nd.gov)
- Statewide mask mandate to expire Monday; business restrictions will be eased | Health | bismarcktribune.com
- North Dakota mayors speak out against effort to kill pandemic state of emergency | Grand Forks Herald