The North Dakota state legislature is an informal affair. Members proudly consider themselves “citizen-legislators,” which is to say, no one quits their day job after being elected.

They make do without benefit of a staff, or even an office. In North Dakota, legislators fetch their own coffee and eat butterscotch-dipped Rice Krispies Treats, a local specialty.

Such low-key lawmaking has its advantages, says representative Al Carlson, a Fargo Republican. For one thing, he can bring his 14-year-old nephew, Justin, to floor debates. And there isn’t much dawdling either. “We meet for only 80 days every other year,” Carlson says. “We get through our business pretty quickly.” Yesterday, that business included a reading of the girls’ high school state basketball championship results into the record.

Today’s agenda, however, promises to be more controversial: The house is debating a move by representative Jim Kasper, another Republican from Fargo, to legalize Internet poker in North Dakota. Kasper has introduced two bills that he estimates would raise $75 million in new taxes by enticing the $2 billion online-poker industry to move to the state. The first bill, which sets up a licensing scheme, passed by a slim margin the previous week. The current proposal, which calls for a constitutional amendment permitting online poker, is facing a vigorous debate. Today, Carlson and his nephew watch as one representative after another stands to address the house.

By Jeff Howe

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