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North Dakota Legislative Assembly Then...and Now! - Legislative History

 

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The Legislative Assembly

Structural variations in the Legislative Assembly accompanied development in the state. Salient areas of fluctuation included district representation, committee organization, and legislative processes.

The number of legislative districts in North Dakota grew from 31 in 1889 to 49 in 1951, while the number of senators from each district remained constant at one and the number of representatives in each district varied from two to four in 1889 to one to five in 1951. Currently, 47 legislative districts elect one senator and two representatives each.

In 1889 the Legislative Assembly counted 36 standing committees in the House of Representatives and 35 in the Senate (Some of the standing committees named in the 1889 Senate and House journals now exist as procedural committees.) Committees listed in the 1889 House and Senate journals were Agriculture; Apportionment; Appropriations; Banking/Banks and Banking; Bridges and Ferries; Charitable Institutions; Corporations other than Municipal; Counties; Education; Educational Institutions; Electors and Privileges/Elections; Engrossment/Enrollment/Engrossed and Enrolled Bills; Forestry; Highways; Immigration; Indian Affairs; Insurance; Irrigation; Judiciary; Labor; Military Affairs; Mines and Mining/Mines and Minerals; Municipal Corporations/City and Municipal Corporations; Penal Institutions; Public Buildings; Public Debt; Public Health; Public Printing; Railroads; Rules and Joint Rules/Rules; School and Public Lands/Public Lands; State Affairs; State and Federal Relations/Federal Relations; State Library; Statistics; Supplies and Expenditures; Temperance; Warehouses, Grain Grading and Dealing/Warehouses and Grain Grading; Ways and Means; and Woman Suffrage. By 1951 Legislative Assembly standing committee organization was very similar to what it is now.

Procedurally much remained the same from early sessions of the Legislative Assembly to sessions of recent times--but with slight variations. For example, most of the Senate and House orders of business currently in place existed at the beginning of statehood. However, in 1889 consideration of messages from the Territorial Council and a final "third reading" of bills and resolutions were present, but dedicated conference committee orders were not. The 1951 orders of business even more closely resembled those of today, but they still did not specify questions of personal privilege, procedural or divided committee reports, or consideration of bills and resolutions on the consent calendar.

Legislative Staff

Alongside Legislative Assembly structural changes were shifts in the legislative branch's employment of session employees and permanent staff.

The 1889 House and Senate journals listed less than 30 Legislative Assembly employees; and although the Legislative Assembly later renamed some employment positions and consolidated others, the roles of secretary and assistant secretary of the Senate, chief clerk and assistant chief clerk of the House, sergeant-at-arms, assistant sergeant-at-arms, bill clerk, judiciary clerk, enrolling and engrossing clerk, messenger, official stenographer, postmaster, doorkeeper, chaplain, and watchman continued.

By 1951 the Legislative Assembly staff had grown to over 80 employees with an increased number of stenographers, doorkeepers, committee clerks, and mailing clerks and added jobs for desk reporters, proofreaders, bill room clerks, pages, chart room clerks, a cloakroom attendant, telephone operators, committee room attendants, and a calendar clerk. 

In 2013 the count of Legislative Assembly session employees remained similar to what it was in 1951 at approximately 80 staff members. Differences from 1951 included the absence of positions such as the chart room and cloakroom employees; the addition of deputy sergeants-at-arms, administrative and staff assistants for legislative leaders, recording clerks, parking lot attendants, information kiosk attendants, and a supply room attendant; and an increased number of assistant sergeants-at-arms and committee clerks.

Further legislative branch workforce modification occurred with the addition of a full-time legislative staff known as the Legislative Council. In 1889 no permanent legislative staff existed. By 1951 the Legislative Research Committee, in its sixth year, employed a permanent research director. In 2013 the Legislative Council had 34 FTE positions to support the Legislative Assembly on a full-time basis through administrative, legal, fiscal, office, information technology, and library and records services.

Legislative Council

The North Dakota Legislative Council was created in 1945 as the Legislative Research Committee (LRC). The LRC had a slow beginning during the first interim of its existence because, as reported in the first biennial report, the prevailing war conditions prevented the employment of a research director until April 1946.
 
After the hiring of a research director, the first LRC held monthly meetings prior to the 1947 legislative session and recommended a number of bills to that session. Even though the legislation creating the LRC permitted the appointment of subcommittees, all of the interim work was performed by the 11 statutory members until the 1953-54 interim, when other legislators participated in studies. Although "research" was its middle name, in its early years the LRC served primarily as a screening agency for proposed legislation submitted by state departments and organizations. This screening role is evidenced by the fact that as early as 1949, the LRC presented 100 proposals prepared or sponsored by the committee which the biennial report indicated were not all necessarily endorsed by the committee and included were several alternative or conflicting proposals.
 
The name of the LRC was changed to the Legislative Council in 1969 to more accurately reflect the scope of its duties. Since 2009 Legislative Council refers specifically to the staff functioning as the legislative service agency while Legislative Management refers to the oversight committee of legislators. Although research is still an integral part of the functioning of the Legislative Council, it has become a comprehensive legislative service agency with various duties in addition to research. The Legislative Council staff consists of attorneys, accountants, researchers, and auxiliary personnel who are hired and who serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis.
 
The Legislative Management conducts studies through its committees and the Legislative Council staff provides a wide range of services to legislators, other state agencies, and the public. Attorneys on the staff provide legal advice and counsel on legislative matters to legislators and legislative committees. The Legislative Council supervises the publication of the Session Laws, the North Dakota Century Code, and the North Dakota Administrative Code. The Legislative Council has on its staff the Legislative Budget Analyst and Auditor and assistants who provide technical assistance to the Legislative Management committees and legislators and who review audit reports for the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. The Legislative Council provides computer services to the legislative branch, including research and bill drafting capabilities. The Legislative Council's library contains a wide variety of materials and reference documents, many of which are not available from other sources.

Legislative Management

Originally created by the 1945 Legislative Assembly as the Legislative Research Committee, the name was changed to the Legislative Council in 1969. Effective August 1, 2009, the Legislative Council became the Legislative Management. Its staff of attorneys, fiscal analysts, information technology, support, and library personnel retain the name Legislative Council. Today the 17-member Legislative Management by statute consists of 17 legislators, including the Majority and Minority Leaders of both houses, the Speaker of the House, and six senators and six representatives.  In the House, the Majority Leader appoints four members and the Minority Leader appoints two members.  In the Senate, the Majority Leader appoints four members and the Minority Leader appoints two members.
 
Following each legislative session, the newly appointed Legislative Management meets to determine upcoming interim studies and committee memberships. Each legislator serves on one or more interim committees in the two-year period between legislative sessions. Several interim committees and commissions, such as the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Administrative Rules, Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration, Budget Section, Employee Benefits Programs, Energy Development and Transmission, Higher Education Funding, Information Technology, Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review, Legislative Ethics, Tribal and State Relations, Water Topics Overview, and Workers' Compensation Review, function under statutory authority. Other interim committees are named and assigned by the Legislative Management members. Between sessions, interim committees hold hearings, take testimony, and review information provided by the Legislative Council, state agencies, and interested parties as they consider alternative approaches to issues raised by studies. As the need arises, the Chairman of the Legislative Management can assign additional studies during the interim.  Occasionally, it is necessary for the Legislative Management to contract with universities, consulting firms, or outside professionals on specialized studies and projects. However, the vast majority of studies are handled entirely by the Legislative Council staff.
 
In November of each even-numbered year, the Legislative Management meets to consider the results of all committee work and may accept, reject, or amend committee reports. The Legislative Management then presents its recommendations, together with bills and resolutions necessary for implementation, to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Management is, in a sense, the Legislative Assembly working between sessions. 
 
Providing continuity between legislative sessions, Legislative Management through its attorneys, accountants, and other personnel known as the Legislative Council provides a wide range of services to legislators, other state agencies, and the public, including:
 
  • Staffing interim study committees.
  • Drafting bills and resolutions.
  • Supervising the publication of the "Laws of North Dakota" (Session Laws), the "North Dakota Century Code," and the "North Dakota Administrative Code."
  • Providing legal advice on legislative matters to legislators and legislative committees.
  • Considering problems of statewide significance that surface during the interim.
  • Handling financial administration for the legislative branch.
  • Developing and managing information technology services for the Legislative Assembly.
  • Reviewing information technology in all three branches of state government.
  • Representing the Legislative Assembly at interstate organizations, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, Midwestern Legislative Conference, Council of State Governments, and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
  • Encouraging coordination between the Legislative Assembly and other branches of state government.
  • Responding to informational needs of legislators and their constituents.
  • Handling miscellaneous interim business for the Legislative Assembly.
  • Maintaining a library of contemporary and historical legislative reference sources.
  • Preparing and submitting to the Secretary of State the estimated fiscal impact of an initiated measure, then tracking and reporting on actual fiscal impact if voters approve the initiated measure.
 
In the area of governmental finance, the Legislative Management employs the Legislative Budget Analyst and Auditor who, with the assistance of a fiscal staff, provides technical expertise to budget and appropriation committees, reviews audit reports for the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee (LAFRC), and assists in conducting LAFRC studies designed to improve the state's fiscal practices.
 
Nearly every facet of state government has been influenced by one or more of the Legislative Management's interim studies over the past 64 years. Statutory revisions; government reorganization; development of coal, oil, and gas resources; school finance; tax structure; higher education; court unification; gaming; intergovernmental cooperation; administrative rules; human services; waste management; elections; reapportionment; Indian affairs; economic development; and information technology and telecommunications are among the numerous areas impacted by interim studies.
 
Perhaps of most value to citizen legislators are interim committees that allow members to keep up with rapidly changing developments in complex fields. For instance, the Budget Section receives the Governor's executive budget just prior to each legislative session, and the Administrative Rules Committee monitors executive branch rules.
 
The 1995 Legislative Assembly gave the Legislative Management authority to reconvene the Legislative Assembly. A reconvened session cannot exceed the number of days available (80 natural days) but not used by the last regular legislative session.
 

Legislators

Legislator demographics changed over the course of the state's history in areas such as legislator birthplaces and legislator occupations.

In 1889 no members of the Legislative Assembly had yet been born in-state as the state itself had just been born! By 1951 a majority of the state's legislators were native North Dakotans, but a number of legislators still hailed from beyond the state's borders. Below is a chart that details the birthplaces of North Dakota legislators as reported in the House and Senate journals in 1891 and 60 years later in 1951.

1891 Members

Place of Birth

15

Norway

10

Pennsylvania

8

Canada, New York

7

Ohio

4

Iowa

3

Germany, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire

2

Iceland, Ireland, Massachusetts, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin

1

Connecticut, Denmark, England, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South America, Tennessee

1951 Members

Place of Birth

108

North Dakota

13

Minnesota

9

Iowa

8

Wisconsin

4

Norway, South Dakota

3

Illinois, Indiana

2

Missouri, Nebraska

1

Germany, Kansas, Kentucky, Russia, Shetland Isles, Sweden, Switzerland

Legislative Assembly member occupations varied with shifts in North Dakota's economy and population. Not surprisingly considering North Dakota's agricultural roots, farming was the primary occupation of the largest number of legislators in 1891 and 1951 and in 2013 was second only to retirement. The table below lists the occupations reported by legislators in each of the aforementioned years.

1891 Members

Occupation

58

Farmer

11

Merchant

6

Lawyer

4

Stock Raising

3

Real Estate

2

General Merchandise, Journalist, Minister

1

Accountant, Bank Cashier, Banker, Doctor, Farm Machinery, Hardware, Hotel, Livery, Lumber, Mechanic, Milling

1951 Members

Occupation

98

Farmers

9

Retired

8

Lawyer

4

Banker, Contractor, Insurance, Merchant

3

Rancher

2

Auctioneer, Business, Druggist, Implement, Business, Petroleum Dealer, Printer, Veterinarian

1

Auto Dealer, Blacksmith, Cattleman, Chiropractor, Creamery Manager, Drugstore Owner, Farm Implement Dealer, Farm Management, Garage Dealer, General Merchandise, Grain Dealer, Lumberman, Milling, Newspaper Publisher, Publisher, Radio, Retail Building Material, Retail Furniture, Road Contractor, Seed and Grain, Store Manager, Trucker

2013 Members

Occupation

26

Retired

22

Farmer

16

Business Owner

7

Director

6

Lawyer, Teacher

5

Businessman, Executive Director, President, Self-Employed

4

Contractor, Manager

3

Doctor, Rancher

2

Auctioneer, Banker, CEO, Consultant, Coordinator, Firefighter, Realtor, Sales, Vice­ President

1

Administrator, Auto Dealer, Business Development, Clerk and Assessor, Crop Adjuster, Environmental Specialist, Fab Operator, Home Economist, Independent Landsman, Information Systems, Insurance Agent, Interior Designer, Investigations, Newspaper Publisher, Operating Engineer, Paramedic, Photographer, Provost, Psychologist, Student, Youth Worker

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Photos courtesy of the State Historical Society and the Legislative Council