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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks during an editorial board meeting at the Bismarck Tribune on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

Burgum vetoes 'fundamentally flawed' bill stemming from court fight with Legislature

BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed what he called a "fundamentally flawed" bill stemming from a court fight he had with the Legislature Wednesday, April 10, furthering a dispute over the powers granted to each government branch.

Burgum, a Republican, vetoed Senate Bill 2055, which was introduced by Republican majority leaders in both chambers. It outlines the duties and membership of the Budget Section, a large committee that mostly meets between regular legislative sessions held every other year to receive reports and approve some spending requests.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that lawmakers had given the committee too much power over the state's purse strings.

Burgum said the bill "disregards the Supreme Court's ruling and attempts to enshrine in state law the Budget Section's unconstitutional practice of acting as a mini-Legislature." The bill allows the Legislature to give the committee authority to "approve specific actions, projects and transfers" and lists criteria the Budget Section must consider when evaluating state agency requests.

“Instead of addressing the issue raised in last year’s ruling and properly balancing authority between the branches of government, Senate Bill 2055 makes the problem worse," Burgum said in a statement. "We urge legislators to reject this bill and work collaboratively with the executive branch to avoid further litigation and develop common-sense policy that benefits the taxpayers of North Dakota.”

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who represented the governor during the court case, said Wednesday the bill doesn't meet "the requirements that were litigated when we went to the Supreme Court."

"I think we go right back to the same problem we had before," he said.

The Republican majority leaders, Rep. Chet Pollert and Sen. Rich Wardner, predicted override votes in the House and Senate would reach the required two-thirds majority. Wardner, who expected Burgum's veto, said lawmakers would be forced to think "more strongly" about moving to annual sessions if the governor's actions went unchallenged.

North Dakota is one of four states to hold a regular legislative session every other year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers have been reluctant to meet more regularly.

"We come in, we get going and we get things done in 80 days," Wardner said.

The veto of Senate Bill 2055 marked Burgum's second rejection of the session. Lawmakers failed to override his veto of a bill increasing fees for driver's licenses.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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