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ND Legislature wants limits on executive orders

BISMARCK (AP) — Some Republican lawmakers, upset with Gov. Doug Burgum’s moves on the coronavirus pandemic, want to limit emergency or disaster declarations and allow the Legislature more oversight of the executive branch action.

A bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal, of Edinburg, would limit such a declaration to 30 days. It could be extended another 30 days if the governor calls a special session of the Legislature, which could be held virtually.

The legislation was inspired by a rash of executive orders filed by the Republican governor, most in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not an anti-Burgum bill, nor is it a COVID bill,” Myrdal said. “This was requested by people we represent.”

Burgum filed some 45 executive orders in 2020, from requiring face coverings to imposing business in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus as it stressed the state’s hospital capacity.

Myrdal said a one-size-fits all solution doesn’t always work. For example, she said a bar in a tiny rural North Dakota town is not the same as a bar in Fargo.

Burgum said in a statement that he would work with legislative leaders “to find the right balance for North Dakota that ensures the ability to continue to respond quickly and effectively to complex weather, economic and health-related emergencies and disasters.”

The bill amends legislation passed in 1987 in response to a measles outbreak in Grand Forks. The legislation allows the state health officer to petition a district court where an epidemic is present to cancel public events or close businesses. The proposed amendment would limit the duration to the same as the governor’s proposed time frame.

The proposed legislation also forbids the governor from declaring more than one disaster or emergency “for the same conditions.” It says a governor can’t restrict “the use or expenditure of any money appropriated by the legislative assembly.”

GOP Rep. Scott Louser, of Minot and a co-sponsor of the bill, said many lawmakers heard complaints from constituents about the COVID-19 executive orders.

“Business owners were really upset and felt like they had no recourse,” he said.

Myrdal said it’s proper for the governor to wield the power of emergency declarations “but not for an unlimited amount of time.”

A hearing on the SB2124 is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.

A similar bill in the House would restrict an emergency order to 60 days. It could be extended only with the approval of the Legislature. A hearing on HB1118 has not been scheduled.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said he expected at least six more bills from his chamber seeking to limit executive orders.