North Dakota’s high court overturns key budget bill
The North Dakota Supreme Court struck down a major budget bill for the state government on Thursday, likely meaning lawmakers must come back to Bismarck to do the massive bill over again.
The court ruled the bill “was unconstitutionally enacted and is void” because it violates a provision of the state constitution that says bills can’t embrace more than one subject. The budget bill traditionally contains numerous other items, such as corrections, which are usually hammered out in the session’s last days in April.
Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue said in an interview Thursday that “it’s fair to say” the Legislature will need to reconvene.
The state’s highest court was asked to rule on the budget bill because of a lawsuit brought by the board overseeing North Dakota’s government retirement plans. The budget bill included a change that increased lawmakers’ membership on the board from two to four, a move the board sought to void. The board argued it’s unconstitutional for state lawmakers to sit on the panel.
“Invalidation of (the bill) as a whole is required here,” Justice Daniel Crothers wrote, “because we do not know which provisions were primary and which were secondary, or whether the bill would have been enacted absent the presence of any of the many sections.”
Top lawmakers, including Republican majority leaders and the chairs of budget writing committees, sat on the House-Senate panel that negotiated the budget bill’s final version, which was the last bill passed this year.
Chief Justice Jon Jensen concurred with Crothers, writing separately for a stay of 30 days for the Legislature to respond due to the invalidation’s “far-reaching consequences.” He made clear that the opinion “has ramifications far beyond the issue raised by the Board, and invalidates all of the legislation included within” the budget bill.
Justice Lisa Fair McEvers agreed that not granting lawmakers extra time could have unintended negative effects.
“The funding for much of state government is called into question by declaring the legislation invalid — including funds that have already been spent,” McEvers wrote.
Hogue said, “The Office of Management and Budget does not have funding to operate. The entire bill was invalidated, so they’ve got to be able to function.”
Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor said he hadn’t yet read the court’s opinion but planned to discuss its ramifications with fellow lawmakers and legislative staff to figure out what to do next.
“What we’re going to need to do is be transparent, thoughtful and deliberate in the thought process so that we can best move forward as the legislative body,” he said in an interview.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in a statement said he is arranging meetings with legislative leaders for how to best respond.
The Legislature could reconvene using the five days remaining from its 80-day constitutional limit to meet every two years to pass new laws. Also, Burgum, who is running for president, could call a special session.