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Bill gives state lawmakers more say in spending federal money

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The Legislature has approved a measure designed to give lawmakers more say over how federal money, such as the COVID-19 relief money, is spent.

Under current law, the state’s Emergency Commission – consisting of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the majority leaders of both the House and Senate, and each chamber’s Appropriations Committee chairs – would decide how the money is spent. That recommendation goes to the Legislature’s Budget Section, which can only accept or reject the Commission’s recommendations without change.

The new measure would limit that procedure, so in amounts of to $50 million, the procedure remains the same, but it gives the Budget Section authority to amend. If it’s over $50 million, the full Legislature would have to approve it, in a regular or a special session.

The state received $1.25 billion in COVID-19 relief mone. The decisions on where to spend it were in the hands of the Emergency Commission and the Budget Section.

"During the last biennium, the Budget Section did not have the authority to amend or change any of the requests that came through the Emergency Commission, said Rep. Ben Koppelman (R-West Fargo). "Had that power been in-place, maybe some different results would have come out of that."

Koppelman said it's important that if the decisions are big enough, the full Legislature should have a chance to weigh-in.

"Many of us don't have representation from our districts on the Budget Section," Koppelman said.

It passed the House 73 to 19. It had earlier passed the Senate 46 to 1. It’s now on its way to Governor Burgum’s desk.

The bill is SB 2290.

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