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Omdahl: The Legislature Can Only Do So Much

By Staff | May 1, 2015

The curse of the biennial legislative session is the backup of problems begging to be solved. Consequently, the 80-day biennial session has more business than it can handle with deliberation.

With the new requirement for civics education, future generations will know as much about the United States as immigrants. A majority of us still won’t know the name of the U.S. Secretary of State, but we will still get our tax cuts.

The fixation over guns continued unabated in this session. As I understand it, we can now carry concealed weapons to political rallies. That will reduce political participation to a courageous few. Then we may now carry concealed weapons to worship with the approval of the church council. That gives us an ironclad excuse for skipping church.

The Legislature lapsed into a fit of meanness when it kicked Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited off the advisory board for the Outdoor Heritage Fund. They had the audacity to support the 2014 initiated measure to fund conservation. Apparently, “forever” meant two years and ducks were limited after all.

The governor puts his reputation on the line by promising $50 million as an alternative to last election’s conservation measure and then the Legislature left him embarrassed by reneging on the promise. Shame!

Then it became known that one of the Democratic house members no longer lived in the district that elected him. That produced a proposed constitutional amendment to require legislators to live in their districts. That’s a worthwhile idea, but the amendment is unnecessary. The constitution already deals with the issue in Section 12 of Article 4: “Each house is the judge of the qualifications of its members”

Bipartisanship reared its ugly head with legislation meddling in the jurisdiction of the Board of Higher Education. Republicans and Democrats alike introduced at least a half a dozen measures encroaching on the Board’s constitutional authority. Constitutional government is in danger in North Dakota and Libya.

As the price of oil floated up and down during the session, the Assembly got 27 revenue forecasts during its 78 days. The Capitol janitorial staff won with the best estimate for four days running. Unable to find convincing estimates, legislators introduced a stealth bill providing the oil industry with a safety net slightly more extravagant than food stamps. It was a panic attack.

The Legislature extended alcohol sales to 11 a.m. on Sundays for those thirsty people who lacked the foresight to prepare for the next day. The argument that carried the day was that many people now have the option of going to church on Saturday nights and need something to do on Sunday mornings.

We don’t know what will happen to the opening prayer in the next session after the big brouhaha over a Muslim prayer on Ash Wednesday. Silent prayer would be the least controversial and most effective. We need more prayer and less muttering.

If Senator George Sinner wants a shirt on his back, the Legislature decided that he will still have to pay a sales tax or go shopping in Moorhead. A level playing field for Sunday morning booze but no such thing for clothing.

It is obvious that the biennial session can’t handle all of the ideas generated in the House of Representatives and dispatched by the Senate. If we can’t have an annual session, perhaps we could compromise with a meeting every 18 months. That would cut the workload by 25 percent and the mistakes by 50 percent.

To get western support for the compromise, the Legislature could meet for alternative sessions in Watford City. They would be the “surge” sessions.

A sobering thought: it is easier to criticize than be correct.

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