Senate committee hears bill to limit executive emergency powers | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Senate committee hears bill to limit executive emergency powers

Jan 11, 2021

A Legislative committee is considering a bill requiring a Governor to call lawmakers into special session, if there is an extended emergency, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would allow the Legislature to weigh-in on executive orders. Lawmakers would be allowed to meet remotely. Lawmakers would have to be convened after the first 30 days of a declared emergency.

The bill's main sponsor -- Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburgh) -- told the Senate Judiciary Committee the Legislative branch should be involved in the discussions over responding to an emergency.

"This is not a simple reaction to the current virus, or to the current administration," Myrdal said. "It is not about personalities. It's not about politics, and it's not about power, but rather a direction for the future."

A co-sponsor -- Sen. Dick Dever (R-Bismarck) -- said for the past several months, Gov. Burgum has had to make difficult, and sometimes, unpopular decisions.

"I hope that he sees this bill as an opportunity to shift some of that burden to his colleagues in the Legislature," Dever said. "The people elected us to address difficult situations as well."

But Burgum chief of staff Jace Beehler said Burgum has been in contact with Legislative leaders and local officials, as the state deals with the pandemic.

"What problem are we attempting to solve?" Beehler asked the Committee. "As executive orders were requested from various stakeholders, assoications and citizens, if they were implemented, they were reviewed and discussed on a weekly and bi-weekly basis."

Beehler said orders were modified in response to changing circumstances, or eliminated when they were no longer necessary.

North Dakota National Guard Adjutant General Alan Dohrmann  told the Committee this might hinder response to emergencies.

"Crisis response is a team sport," Dohrmann told the Committee. "But is requires decisive leadership at all levels of the response team."

Dohrmann said good leaders want input from all subject matter experts, and must consider the political and economic implications of their decisions.

"But when time is of the essence, there isn't time to form a committee, research the perfect solution or executive a deliberate bureaucratic process," Dohrmann said.

The Judiciary Committee did not take immediate action.

Myrdal offered an amendment, that local governments could not impose their own tougher restrictions than what the Legislature would approve. That amendment will be considered later.