- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota will use $750,000 of federal coronavirus aid to livestream legislative committee hearings at the Capitol ahead of next year’s legislative session to help ensure remote participation amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have to do it to be prepared,” said John Bjornson, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm.

The Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee on Monday voted to fund the project. It includes enhancing web conferencing among lawmakers and upgrading livestream technology in the House and Senate chambers using funds from the $1.25 billion given to the state as part of the federal stimulus package approved in March.

The 10-member committee, which consists of Senate and House floor leaders, last year approved $100,000 toward committee meetings in two rooms of the state Capitol with the idea of studying a proposal and costs to outfit 14 additional committee rooms during the session that begins in January. Costs at the time were estimated at more than $1 million, and until the pandemic had not been a big priority with most lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who heads the committee that took action Monday, had said it could take “a session or two before we have it in every room.”



Bjornson said all the work should now be done by fall, using the federal coronavirus aid.

North Dakota is one of only eight states that don’t provide live webcasts of at least some committee hearings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Legislature’s floor sessions have been aired online since 2013. Committee meetings are taped and audio recordings are available to the public but some lawmakers have pushed to air the meetings live online to increase transparency and bring the state up with the times.

North Dakota health officials on Monday reported 31 new cases of COVID-19, with all but five in the state’s most populous county, Cass County. Cass had 26 cases on Monday, bringing its total to 1,173.

Statewide, there were 1,931 confirmed cases. The number of patients hospitalized was 32, up two from the previous day.

One new death was reported Monday, bringing the statewide total to 44. Health officials said the victim was a Ramsey County woman in her 90s with underlying health conditions.

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