ND Legislative Panel Signals Legal Challenge

North Dakota legislative leaders on Wednesday prepared to pursue litigation against some vetoes issued by the first-term Gov. Doug Burgum, saying he overstepped his authority.

A key committee of the Legislature voted unanimously to pursue the litigation instead of calling lawmakers back into session. At issue is whether any governor may veto parts of spending bills in ways that change the legislative intent, such as deleting a word or phrases.

"We need to make sure it's a policy that doesn't happen again," Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson said.

Grand Forks GOP Sen. Ray Holmberg, who heads the Legislative Management Committee, said the panel will meet again to set the details of a lawsuit before filing directly to the state Supreme Court.

The state Constitution gives the governor power to veto provisions in a spending bill without rejecting the entire measure. But Wardner and Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson requested an attorney general's opinion in May, questioning whether the governor could veto parts of appropriation bills in ways that change the legislative intent.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion on Monday that says Burgum overstepped his authority on some vetoes. Stenehjem says in the opinion that the governor has the power to veto parts of a spending bill that are related to a vetoed appropriation, as long as the bill can still stand as workable legislation. But he said the governor can't veto conditions or restrictions on appropriations without vetoing the appropriation itself.

Burgum, who is also a Republican, issued a statement following the attorney general's opinion saying he believes it supports the "overriding intent" of the vetoes.





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