Legislative Branch Function and Process
As the policymaking branch for the state, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly is responsible for enacting laws and appropriating the money necessary to operate state government. In addition, the Legislative Assembly conducts oversight activities by determining that the money and authority given to the state and local governments is being handled in the manner that the Legislative Assembly intended. Under the system of “checks and balances” the Legislative Assembly--particularly through the Senate--assures that the Governor appoints acceptable personnel to key positions. The North Dakota Senate “advises and consents” on the following appointments:
- Members of the State Board of Higher Education.
- Commissioner of Financial Institutions.
- Gaming Commission.
- Securities Commissioner.
- Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission.
- Director of the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The Legislative Assembly places proposed constitutional amendments before North Dakota voters. Members of the Legislative Assembly also provide constituent services to help persons deal with government entities. The Legislative Assembly is the vehicle used to voice opinions on behalf of North Dakota to federal agencies, to other states, and to interstate organizations.
North Dakota’s biennial Legislative Assembly is comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The same legislative districts are used for electing House and Senate members. In the November 1996 general election, voters approved a constitutional amendment increasing the term of House members from two to four years. The change took effect July 1, 1997. As a result of voter approval, both the House and Senate members serve four-year terms, with one-half of each chamber being elected biennially. House Bill No. 1081 adopted by the 1997 Legislative Assembly required representatives from the even-numbered districts to run for a two-year term in November 1998. Representatives from odd-numbered districts ran for four-year terms in November 1998. In the 2000 election, the even-numbered district seats in both the House and Senate were filled for four-year terms.
Based upon the decennial census, the Legislative Assembly redistricts itself every 10 years. The November 2001 special session Legislative Assembly reduced the number of its members from 147 to 141, effective as of January 1, 2002. The 2011 special session Legislative Assembly continued its number of members of 141 for the 2011 decennial census redistricting.
Qualification for and Term of Office
To serve in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly a person must be:
- At least 18 years of age on or before the election date.
- A qualified elector of the legislative district.
- A resident of North Dakota for one year prior to the election.
(North Dakota Constitution Article IV, Section 5).
Legislators begin their terms of office the first day of December following their election (Article IV, Section 7).
In December prior to the January convening of a regular session, the Legislative Assembly meets for three days of orientation and organization (Article IV, Section 7). Party caucuses meet before the organizational session to select leadership.
Convening Date and Adjournment
The North Dakota Constitution sets the convening date of the Legislative Assembly for the first Tuesday after the third day in January (odd-numbered years) or at other times as may be decided by law but not later than January 11 (Article IV, Section 7).
Under North Dakota’s Constitution, the Legislative Assembly may meet for up to 80 days during the biennium (Article IV, Section 7). Since the 1976 constitutional amendment that provides for flexibility in the use of the permitted number of days, the Legislative Assembly has only chosen to reconvene itself once, that being for redistricting purposes in the fall of 1981.
By a 1995 change in statute (North Dakota Century Code Section 54-03-02), the Legislative Management has authority to reconvene the Legislative Assembly. The length of a reconvened session called by the Legislative Management may not exceed the number of days available (80 natural days) but not used by the last regular legislative session.
Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House
The Lieutenant Governor serves as the President of the Senate. When presiding over the Senate, the President may only cast a vote in case of a tie. The President assigns bills to standing committees. If the Lieutenant Governor is temporarily unavailable to preside, a “president pro tempore” chosen by the senators from the majority party presides.
In the House of Representatives, the Speaker serves as the presiding officer. The majority party always elects the Speaker. As an elected member of the House, the Speaker votes on all bills and resolutions. The Speaker assigns bills to standing committees.
The bulk of the Legislative Assembly’s work is conducted through the use of standing committees. Legislators who serve on the Appropriations Committees have no other standing committee assignments as those committees meet every day of the week. Other legislators, except the majority and minority leaders and the Speaker, serve on two committees--one meeting Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and the other on Thursday and Friday. Except in unusual instances, all bills and resolutions are referred to standing committees. The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate assign bills and resolutions to standing committees for hearings. Standing committee appointments are made by the Committee on Committees in both the House and Senate. After public hearings, the standing committees submit their recommendations to their respective chambers. Committee reports for bills and resolutions may either be:
- Do pass.
- Do not pass.
- Amend and do pass.
- Amend and do not pass.
- Without recommendation.
Enactment of Legislation
After the standing committee hearing process, all bills are reported back to the floor of the House or Senate. Committees are not allowed to hold legislation or kill bills in committee. All bills have a recorded roll call vote in the appropriate chamber. If the House and the Senate cannot agree on the language of a bill, each chamber appoints three of its members to a conference committee. When the conference committee reaches agreement, it reports its recommendation to the House and to the Senate. If both agree, the bill is passed. If not, a new conference committee is appointed.
After the House and the Senate pass a bill, the measure goes to the Governor for consideration. The Governor has three options:
- Sign the bill.
- Veto the bill, in which case the bill with the veto message must be returned to its house of origin within three days. The Legislative Assembly can override the Governor’s veto by a two-thirds vote of the legislators in both houses.
- Refuse to sign the bill. The bill then becomes law without the Governor’s signature.
When the Legislative Assembly adjourns, the Governor keeps the three options, but the Governor then has 15 days in which to act instead of three. If the Legislative Assembly is not in session, vetoes cannot be overridden. If a bill is vetoed after adjournment, the veto message is filed with the Secretary of State within the 15 days.
The constitution allows the Governor to employ the “item” veto, which means the Governor may veto individual sections in an appropriations bill while approving the remainder of the bill. The procedure for handling item vetoes is the same as for regular vetoes.
Notebook computers are made available to all representatives and senators. In the LAWS (Legislator's Automated Work Station) system legislators can obtain bill status, bill and journal text, split-screen display of amendments and bill text, e-mail, Internet, personal and legislative scheduling, budget status, word-processing, and spreadsheet functions.