- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Legislature finally passed a budget Tuesday after lawmakers called themselves back from adjournment for an unprecedented one-day session.

The House voted 73-16 and the Senate voted 38-6 to pass a more than $14 million appropriations bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System and state Retirement and Investment Office. It was the first lawmaker-called special session since they granted themselves that authority two decades ago.

The Republican-led Legislature agreed to a adopt compromise reached a week earlier by a special committee. A key part of the compromise is an amendment to add one lawmaker from each party to seven-member board that oversees the benefits.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate majority leader, said the compromise between the Senate and the House was the result of “good-faith negotiations.”

“Both sides didn’t get everything they were looking for,” he said.

The impasse during the 78-day session - two fewer than the maximum allowed in the state constitution - came as a result of a feud between GOP-led House and Senate. House budget writers inserted amendments in the appropriations bill they believed would ensure that thousands of public employees, including lawmakers, can keep the same health benefits and medical providers when their insurer changes next month from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota to Sanford Health Plan. Blue Cross Blue Shield was underbid after providing coverage for nearly four decades.

Senate leaders called the House amendments micromanaging and warned it could lead to a contract breech and lawsuit.

Some Democrats pounced on the intra-party bickering by Republicans, saying it could set a bad precedent.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said the GOP-led House used “strong-arm tactics” and “legislative extortion” by inserting policy amendments in the spending bill.

“This was really done under duress, under threat of a state agency not being funded,” said Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, and other Republicans said inserting policy amendments in spending bills is not rare in the North Dakota Legislature.

Carlson said he could point to about a dozen appropriations bills where that has happened.

“It’s not an unusual process,” he said.

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