- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The number of bills filed before the start of North Dakota’s upcoming legislative session is down from 2015 and below the long-term average, according to the head of the Legislature’s research arm.

Lawmakers, state agencies and legislative committees have already filed 260 bills and three resolutions ahead of the Legislature’s Jan. 3 start, said Legislative Council Director Jim Smith, whose staff includes attorneys and budget analysts who help lawmakers with research and bill drafting.

That’s down from 279 bills and 13 resolutions that were pre-filed in 2015, and more than 100 measures short of a typical session. Lawmakers, however, contend early filing is a poor barometer for what may lie ahead for the Legislature.

“There are still a lot of ideas still out there and I really don’t know what’s left, but I don’t think we’ll set a record,” said Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson.

The number of pre-filed legislative measures has averaged about 395 since 1981, Smith said. A record 543 legislative measures were pre-filed ahead of the 1987 Legislature, data show.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman said the meager number of measures may be due in part to the number of new Legislators who are still learning the ropes before the Legislature reconvenes.

“I would think that could be an indication why there aren’t so many,” she said.

There are 35 new lawmakers coming to Bismarck, which is about twice the normal average to begin a session and the most since 1991, when there were 51, Smith said.

There were 864 bills and 84 resolutions ultimately introduced during the 2015 session. Fifty resolutions were approved and 485 bills were signed into law.

The 2013 session was even busier, 41 resolutions and 503 bills signed into law after the Republican-led Legislature took the entire 80 days allowed by law to finish its work.

Carlson said each lawmaker is free to propose any measure they wish, and it ultimately will be decided by their peers.

“Everybody has a right to put in whatever they want and it will get a fair hearing and a vote on the floor,” he said.

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