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Sen. Ray Holmberg, Published January 21 2011

Those ‘pointless’ bills reflect a valued North Dakota legislative tradition

Editorial and letter writers have had a field day recently poking fun at the North Dakota Legislature over some of the bills that have been introduced this session.

Lloyd Omdahl, in his weekly column, wrote: “In almost every session, the state Legislature entertains proposals that are clear violations of the constitutional provisions relating to the Board of Higher Education.”

Forum readers need to remember that North Dakota has a long and proud tradition of citizen input into the legislative process. As a citizen Legislature, we have always believed that any idea, whether profound or ridiculous, gets its day in court and what is profound to one legislator or citizen may be absolute nonsense to another and vice versa. Rightly or wrongly, it is often the media and not the Legislature that spends an inordinate amount of time on the silly, oftentimes to the detriment of the profound.

One way to address this situation would be to allow someone to be a gatekeeper and not allow the mundane and trivial bills to be introduced. Many states give that power to committee chairmen. In North Dakota, however, the Legislature decided a long time ago that that kind of decision is best left in the hands of the body and not a specific individual.

The reasoning behind this is quite simple. The lawmakers at the time envisioned a lawmaking body that would consider all types of legislation, from all citizens, regardless of practicality, usefulness or sensibility. This form of government ensured that the best legislation would be enacted while still providing the citizen participation and input necessary for a successful democracy.

Though some may criticize over how absurd some legislation can be, a number of them might be viewed as very important to some North Dakotans. Take, for instance, the so-called “Ladybug Bill” (HB 1219), which was proposed by an active group of second-grade students from Kenmare who would like to see the ladybug become the state insect for North Dakota. Some critics view this as a monumental waste of legislators’ time and energy. I view this as an opportunity for a group of young people to experience their government firsthand.

Omdahl references a bill introduced in the last session that would have mandated a University of North Dakota/North Dakota State University football game. At the end of the day, that bill died in the House, where it got three votes.

The point is, the opportunity for these seemingly “pointless” bills to be heard exists. I, for one, believe in a system of government that allows for the most participation from its citizens. North Dakota is a successful example of such a system.

Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, has represented District 17 in the North Dakota Senate since 1977. He is chairman of the Appropriations Committee.