- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A growing number of North Dakota lawmakers believe the Legislature should meet annually instead of every two years to deal with increasingly complex issues, bigger budgets and spending demands spurred by the state’s explosive growth.

Legislation in both the Senate and the House was presented Friday that would bring lawmakers back to the Capitol every year. North Dakota’s projected oil revenue, down $4 billion compared to estimates less than two months ago, is a prime example of why the change is needed, said John Grabinger, D-Jamestown.

“The forecasts on revenues can be as far off as a rookie weather forecaster,” Grabinger told the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. “We owe it to our constituents to take up the concerns needing to be addressed by our state on a much more efficient and timely manner.”

Grabinger is sponsoring a bill that would hold a 50-day session in odd-numbered years and 30-day session in even-numbered years. Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, is the primary sponsor of a House bill that would hold a 20-day session in even-numbered years and 60-day session in odd-numbered years.

North Dakota is one only four states - along with Montana, Nevada and Texas - where the Legislature doesn’t meet every year. Lawmakers have debated holding annual gathering for years.

The North Dakota Legislature ended its longest session ever in 2013, when it logged 80 days, the maximum allowed by the state Constitution. Lawmakers met for more than 20 hours straight on the last day after approving two spending bills that completed work on the Legislature’s record $14 billion, two-year budget.

The Legislature logged 78 days in 2011 and 79 days in 2009.

“We’ve been pushing the 80-day limit for the past few sessions,” said Kempenich, who has served 22 years in the Legislature. “I voted against holding an annual session early on, but the time has come now.”

Grabinger also believes the Legislature could make better use of its time, especially during the opening week of the session where there is much “pomp and circumstance.”

The 1975 Legislature finished its work in 53 days, the shortest session in modern history. They plowed through 1,309 bills and resolutions, about 400 more than have been filed for this session.

Committees that heard testimony Friday took no action. The competing bills will be debated in their respective chambers later.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, a member of the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, said the current session format is not perfect, but he’ll vote against requiring yearly gatherings.

Cook pointed out that lawmakers in Texas - which North Dakota trails in oil production - also only meet every other year in a state that has “oil just like we do” and some “pretty critical issues.”

To which Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, who also sits on the committee, replied: “Why should we want to be like Texas?”

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