BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota lawmakers are again trying to put the entire state in a single time zone, introducing legislation that would bring 11 southwestern counties in the Mountain time district into Central time.
It marks the issue's return to the State Capitol, where a similar proposal gained statewide attention in 2017.
Fargo Republican Rep. Jim Kasper, one of 12 legislators backing the bill, said the time zone difference has been an obstacle to business growth.
"Some people in the southwestern part of North Dakota are against it, but I've had discussions with a lot of people that are for the change," Kasper said. "The trouble I see is with big development growing in western North Dakota."
The 11 counties in Mountain time in North Dakota are home to around 64,000 people, less than 10 percent of the state's population. They include all of Adams, Billings, Bowman, Golden Valley, Grant, Hettinger, Stark and Slope counties, as well as parts of Dunn, McKenzie and Sioux counties.
It's unclear how much support the bill has in those counties, but communities there have strongly rejected change in the past. Both Billings and Stark county voters in 2010 shot down a proposal to switch to Central time that was introduced by a Dickinson city commissioner.
At the time, some local officials in Mountain time observing counties said the proposal didn't make sense to them.
“We do a lot of business with South Dakota and Montana and they’re all Mountain time,” Slope County auditor Lorrie Buzalsky told the Bismarck Tribune. Officials from Bowman County, which forms the southwest corner of North Dakota, had similar concerns.
So far there hasn't been any vocal support from southwest legislators. All current sponsors come from districts in Central time. None of the southwest North Dakota lawmakers reporters reached out to responded to a request for comment.
Southwestern North Dakota has observed Mountain time since the system was first introduced in 1883, though boundaries have changed a few times in the last 100 years or so, according to the federal register.
Federal authorities in 1929 made it so all but a few counties observed Central time. In 1968, North Dakota Gov. William Guy petitioned the Department of Transportation to place 14 counties south and west of the Missouri river in the Mountain time zone.
But over the years, a few of those counties petitioned the Department of Transportation to switch to Central time because residents were more likely to work or buy goods in the Central time zone.
Oliver County switched in 1992. Morton County and a portion of Sioux County moved in 2003. Mercer County moved in 2010.
But even if the new bill is passed, the state still would have to go through a procedure set by the Department of Transportation to evaluate whether a change is warranted.