The State Senate has approved the Legislature's budget bill for the 2021-2023 biennium.
The budget includes many of the changes made prior to the current session that were driven by the pandemic – including viewing and attending committee meetings remotely.
"You have today a budget which really is tomorrow's Legislature today," Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) said. "You will find that, compared to other Legislatures around the country, North Dakota is the gold standard."
Holmberg said the Legislature is meeting in-person, and has expanded its reach.
"We average about 5000 people a week tuning in," Holmberg said.
Every committee room is wired, and people can testify remotely, if they choose. Holmberg told his Senate colleagues his committee had 700 people tuned in when the University System presented its budget.
"So as far as transparency, I think we are doing a pretty good job," Holmberg said. "That's something that is not going to change. It will continue to evolve."
One big change in that budget – the Legislature would have its own information technology system.
Right now, it’s part of the state’s Information Technology umbrella.
"The Legislature is a separate branch of government," Holmberg said.
The court system already has its own IT servers.
Holmberg says I-T will still provide the Internet backbone. He said this will mean adding eight full-time positions in the Legislative Council.
"Three of them are currently working full-time with the Legislature, even though they are part of ITD," Holmberg said. "And we pay ITD for the services of those three employees."
Sen. NIcole Poolman (R-Bismarck) is also a member of Senate Appropriations. She said it came down to service issues.
"We just want our own people to be able service our own system, and have access to those people when we need it," Poolman said in an interview. "That seemed to me to rise to the top of the discussion."
The Senate unanimously passed the budget bill. It now goes to the House.