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1991 Legislature

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Coffee mug commemorating the 1991 North Dakota Legislature
Jack Dura

North Dakota’s 1991 legislative session was one of the last to have a split statehouse, with Republicans having a majority in the House and Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. The session was short by today’s standards. Lawmakers used 67 of the 80 days allowed by the state constitution to write new laws and pass budgets.

Lawmakers introduced 1,218 bills and resolutions in 1991, including a special session in the fall for redistricting. Gov. George Sinner signed 728 bills into law and vetoed 13, one of which the Legislature overrode and made law.

Several high-profile issues arose. Among them was Sunday shopping, as the Legislature made a significant change in the so-called "blue laws" that restricted business on Sundays. Most businesses were now allowed to open at noon.

One of the bills vetoed by Gov. Sinner would have been the strictest abortion law in the country. He said government “must not play God.” The House sustained his veto, falling eight votes short of the required two-thirds majority for an override.

On this date in 1991, The Bismarck Tribune recapped the session, which had ended at 10:01 p.m. the day before. The Tribune reported lawmakers were “giddy as Shriners at a convention.” State representatives threw paper airplanes and donned goofy hats. Female lawmakers wore colorful hats during the day's floor sessions. Some lawmakers grabbed the speaker’s microphone during supper “to croon bizarre songs and poetry from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’”

Lawmakers packed their cars, filled them with gas and kept their eyes on road reports, as heavy snow and rain came to western North Dakota. The speaker of the House said of the road report: “If that will facilitate compromise, so be it.”

The governor commended the Legislature for leaving $42 million in reserve funds, increasing funding for education, and for a major economic development package.

The Senate majority leader attributed the shorter session to having few tax issues. Taxes had prolonged the 1989 session to 75 days.

Later on that last day, lawmakers joined together during a break and sang “God Bless America,” “Jingle Bells” and other songs. Some lawmakers stayed in Bismarck for an adjournment party at the Kelly Inn.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1990, December 29. Page 12
The Bismarck Tribune. 1991, January 2. Pages 1, 10
The Bismarck Tribune. 1991, February 7. Pages 1, 8
The Bismarck Tribune. 1991, April 2. Pages 1, 11
The Bismarck Tribune. 1991, April 3. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1991, April 12. Pages 1, 14 The Bismarck Tribune. 1992, June 10. Page 1
https://ndlegis.gov/assembly/52-1991/regular https://ndlegis.gov/files/resource/library/lsdcass.pdf

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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