Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

The North Dakota Legislative Assembly meets every odd year to determine the state’s budget and whether new laws or changes to current laws need to be made. State agency leaders testify in front of appropriation committees to explain why their proposed budget is necessary to fulfill their commitment to the people of the state. People from all walks of life contact their senators and representatives to express their beliefs about what is right and what is wrong for North Dakota. Whether it’s business owners wanting to be open Sunday mornings, the energy industry seeking tax breaks, or the livestock industry seeking more stringent restrictions on cattle imports, a plethora of issues comes before the legislature each session.

As the repository for state government records of historical value, the North Dakota State Archives collects much of the work accomplished during (and in between) these legislative sessions. We have archived all the bills and resolutions introduced in the House and Senate since statehood in 1889. Probably one of the more interesting and most requested sets of records we archive is the written and recorded testimony from standing committee hearings. These audio tapes run from 1977 to 2005. The majority is on mini-cassette tapes, organized chronologically and by committee and bill number (digital recording of these hearings began in 2007). Because many bills resurface in subsequent sessions, interested parties will often look back and listen to what opponents and proponents said about the bill as they prepare for an upcoming hearing.

The State Archives also preserves videos of television news. Our collection includes substantial television coverage of legislative issues in North Dakota from the 1970s through the 1990s. For example, the blue laws, or Sunday restrictions on sales, have garnered much attention for decades. This session features a bill that would repeal the last of the blue laws, allowing all stores to open before noon on Sundays. Below are a few clips I picked out from our Meyer Television (KFYR-TV) news collection about blue law legislation, as well as the wrap-up report from the final day of the 1989 session. Enjoy!