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September 7: 80-Day Legislative Session Vote

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North Dakota’s Legislature has 80 days every session to do its business, and that can be a tight clock. But that time-limit used to be even tighter – only 60 days. On this date in 1976, voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment that increased the 60 days to 80 “natural days.”

The reference to “natural days” was meant to prevent the practice of “covering the clock,” a procedure used to stretch out the time counted as a legislative day … a “natural day” being no more than 24 consecutive hours. However, the measure did allow the Legislature to use its 80 days nonconsecutively.

The main reason for the ballot measure was to allow more time and flexibility to do the work, allowing both houses to recess, and also to address emergency measures.

The last days of a legislative session are quite busy and often long. The 2013 Legislature used all 80 days for the first and only time, and adjourned around 4:30 in the morning after a 20-hour marathon day – with only a few hours to spare. Final session days in other years have started at 8 in the morning and have gone past midnight.

Criticism of the Legislature could be searing in newspapers a century ago. In 1913, the Lankin Reporter opined: “The North Dakota legislature has adjourned after sixty days of the most useless inactivity in the history of the state – and we have had pretty rotten ones in the past.”

Soon after the 1893 legislative session, the Jamestown Weekly Alert wrote: “The legislature appeared to devote its time to everything but the interests of the people.”

In 1890, after North Dakota’s first legislative session, The Bismarck Tribune quipped: “There is one consolation to the people of the state. The legislature cannot meet again for several months.”

Since voters approved of the 80-day limit, the Legislature has used an average of 72 to 73 days to do its work.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Legislative history of 1975 SCR 4023. Received from Legislative Council, 2022, August 8.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1890, March 19. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1893, March 11. Page 4
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1893, March 16. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1913, March 22. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1975, February 26. Page 21
The Bismarck Tribune. 1976, April 26. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1976, August 24. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1976, September 8. Pages 1-2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1976, December 24. Page 12
The Bismarck Tribune. 1977, April 8. Page 14
The Bismarck Tribune. 1977, May 4. Page 34
The Bismarck Tribune. 2013, May 5. Page 1

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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