AP NEWS

Wardner: Lawmakers may be recalled over auditor legislation

May 10, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers could be called back into session over legislation that limits the powers of the state auditor, Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said Thursday.

“Right now, I wouldn’t but it is a possibility,” Wardner told The Associated Press.

Wardner said he and House Minority Leader Chet Pollert have scheduled a meeting with state Auditor Josh Gallion next week to discuss the issue and how it will affect the agency. Pollert said he hasn’t considered recalling the House and wants to meet with Gallion first.

The Legislature passed the measure late in the session that requires the auditor’s office to get lawmakers’ permission to conduct “performance audits,” designed to see if agencies are being managed correctly and efficiently. One lawmaker acknowledged that Gallion’s aggressiveness — he has carried out audits at roughly twice the rate of his predecessors — prompted some legislators to “reel him in.”

The action has drawn widespread criticism, and has spurred a referral campaign to ask voters to strip the legislation from the books.

Gallion, an elected Republican, has said he may not seek a second term after GOP Gov. Doug Burgum signed the legislation last week.

The amendment was put in the auditor’s budget that passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House. Democrats in both chambers supported the legislation.

Wardner said he didn’t know the amendment had been put in the budget bill when he voted on it, and believes other senators didn’t know either.

“There was no controversy when it passed and that tells me we didn’t know about it,” Wardner said.

Lawmakers routinely slide amendments into budget bills near the end of the session, many of which are about policy and not money. Lawmakers, who consider hundreds of bills each session, often rely on the bill carrier to fully explain the impact of the bill and amendments with in it.

Democratic Sen. Erin Oban said she didn’t know the implications of the legislation when she voted on it.

“I take ownership of my vote but I voted for the budget bill,” she said “I rarely vote against a budget bill.”

She called the practice of tucking last-minute legislation into other bills “a disrespect for the process — there is no hearing, no public debate and not an opportunity to go up or down on this.”

Wardner said the amendment “may have come out” had he known more about it.

“It’s not worth having it in there,” he said. “This was not a push from leadership.”

Pollert also said he knew little of the amendment until it was brought on the floor of the House.

Republican Rep. Keith Kempenich, who said he pushed the legislation tucked into the bill, told the AP this week that he did so because of Gallion’s aggressiveness since being elected in 2016.

Pollert said Kempenich contacted him this week and told him the legislation “is probably a little too strong.”

North Dakota’s Constitution allows residents to bypass lawmakers and strip state laws and constitutional amendments off the books if they gather enough signatures from supportive voters.

Charlene Nelson of Casselton and Riley Kuntz of Dickinson said Thursday that a referendum campaign has begun to strike the amendment from the budget bill.

“For the Legislature to go in and muzzle the auditor, the best source of transparency in state government, is a sock in the face,” Nelson said.

___

This version of the story corrects the spelling of the first name of Charlene Nelson the second paragraph from the bottom.