Legislature mulls Burgum pay, ethics, pot, veto resolution

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Will the North Dakota Legislature force Gov. Doug Burgum to finally take a salary? Are lawmakers giving up on a proposal to reconvene a legislative session for veto votes? And will a final decision on legislation to address ethics reform be adopted?
North Dakotans may find answers to those and other questions this week, as the 66th session of the Legislature heads toward its home stretch.
Monday is Day 62, and the Legislature has a goal of finishing its work in fewer than 75 days. But the House and Senate still have hanging most all major spending measures and dozens of policy bills embroiled in conference committee negotiations.
North Dakota’s Republican-led House wants to force GOP Gov. Doug Burgum to take a salary.
The first-term governor and wealthy former software executive ran on a campaign promise to forgo his salary due to tough spending decisions with a downturn in the state’s energy economy at the time.
But state law specifies the salary of the governor — $130,000 annually at present — and does not say they have the option of taking less. Previous opinions by two North Dakota attorneys general have been critical of potential officeholders promising on the campaign trail to take less money.
House and Senate negotiators two years ago compromised by attaching “legislative intent” to the budget bill that makes clear Burgum is expected to take his pay but the money cannot be spent for any other purpose if he doesn’t.
State budget director Joe Morrissette said Burgum did not take a salary during the current two-year budget cycle.
The Senate has OK’d leaving things essentially as they are.
House budget writers have included language in the governor’s budget bill that requires Burgum to take his salary.
Burgum has been taking advantage of the state’s fully paid health insurance plan, that has a value of about $1,500 monthly.
The House and Senate will resume reviewing the other chamber’s bills that develop rules to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at ethics reform.
The House is holding one hearing on the Senate proposal while the Senate is holding two on the House proposal this week.
House Republicans and most lobbyists are supporting the GOP bill from that chamber. The initiative’s sponsors like the Democrat-sponsored Senate measure because they say it better reflects the constitutional amendment’s intent.
The so-called anti-corruption amendment passed by voters in November has provisions to restrict lobbying and create an independent ethics commission, among other things.
Fargo GOP Rep. Shannon Roers Jones isn’t giving up on legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
A bill she sponsored that sought to fine someone $200 for possessing an ounce or less of pot was killed in her own chamber.
Currently, possession of pot is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Now she’s pushing an amendment on separate legislation that lowers the amount of possession to a half-ounce or less of marijuana, with the fine increased to $250. It’s already been adopted in the Senate.
The measure also calls for a study of the impacts of recreational marijuana if it is passed by voters as an initiated measure.
The Senate has been holding off on a resolution that would allow lawmakers to return to Bismarck to address last-minute vetoes by a governor.
The resolution would allow lawmakers’ return without counting against the maximum 80-day limit set by the state Constitution.
The resolution was inspired after lawmakers adjourned their session two years ago after 77 days. After lawmakers left town, Burgum vetoed some legislation, including a $16.1 million appropriation that would have provided each non-oil producing township $10,000.
If lawmakers pass the resolution, it would have to go to voters for approval.
There already are several resolutions pending in the Legislature. GOP Sen. Jerry Klein says the veto resolution may just languish “because we don’t want to clutter the ballot.”