- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota legislative leaders will decide Wednesday whether to reconvene the Legislature to override some vetoes by Gov. Doug Burgum that the state attorney general says were not authorized.

The Legislature adjourned on April 27, and the first-term Republican governor vetoed parts of several spending bills less than a week afterward. Burgum’s office defended the vetoes at the time, saying they saved the state money while protecting executive branch authority. Most of North Dakota’s new laws take effect Aug. 1, although spending bills generally become law on July 1.

“The clock is ticking,” said Grand Forks GOP Sen. Ray Holmberg, who heads a committee of 17 lawmakers that oversees the Legislature’s business between sessions.

The Legislative Management committee has 13 Republicans and four Democrats, including floor leaders.

Holmberg said he expects the majority and minority leaders will have polled members of their parties to see if they favor coming back to Bismarck to address the vetoes. Holmberg said it would not happen unless an override is certain.

“If the votes aren’t there, we should not meet,” he said.

Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo and his Senate counterpart, Rich Wardner, of Dickinson requested the attorney general’s opinion in May, questioning whether the governor could veto parts of appropriation bills in ways that change the legislative intent.

Stenehjem’s opinion said the vetoes of some sections of the North Dakota University System appropriation and some others were not authorized.

The Legislative Council, which is the Legislature’s research arm, said in an earlier memo to leaders that several of Burgum’s vetoes “appear” to have gone beyond his executive power.

“Many of the partial vetoes attempt to eliminate conditions or restrictions on appropriations, strike language that is not separate and distinct from the rest of the bill, change the legislative purpose of appropriations bills, and, in effect, legislate from the executive branch,” the memo said.

In his opinion, Stenehjem said 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 issued a statement following the attorney general’s opinion saying he believes it supports the “overriding intent” of the vetoes. But his statement did specify how the opinion furthers those goals.

The session lasted 77 days, just short of the 80-day maximum set by the North Dakota Constitution. The Legislature would have three days left to address the vetoes. A two-thirds vote would be needed to override the vetoes.

Republicans hold a more than two-thirds majority in both chambers.

The North Dakota Legislative Council estimates the Legislature costs state taxpayers about $80,000 daily when it’s in session and a few thousand dollars less when not in session because fewer staff members are required to attend.

The Legislature also could challenge Burgum in court. Holmberg said while that’s unlikely, “anything could happen.”

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