By Associated Press - Wednesday, March 24, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Senate has passed a bill that would prevent state auditors from releasing information about an investigation until a decision is made on whether it will be criminally prosecuted.

Republican Rep. Pat Heinert, a former Burleigh County sheriff, says he sponsored the bill to prevent potential jury pools from being tainted by information that was being released before prosecution. Heinert says a 2019 audit of the Department of Commerce drew his attention to the issue.

State Auditor Josh Gallion released his conclusion that the department mishandled state money and failed to adhere to public bid requirements in developing the state’s new logo. The audit drew attention because Gallion publicized its findings.

No criminal charges were filed in the case.

Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer and some lawmakers criticized Gallion for his actions. Kommer retained an attorney as the investigation unfolded and was later denied state reimbursement for attorney fees.

Kommer, who resigned last fall to enter the private sector, in October urged lawmakers on an audit review committee to “work with the legislative body to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Gallion has said he had an obligation to release the findings.

The bill now goes to Gov. Doug Burgum. He has been critical of how Gallion handled audits of the Commerce Department and State Library, saying the audits “created an environment of real fear among state employees.”

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