Business & Real Estate

Lawmakers set up potential lawsuits over veto, abortion

The North Dakota Legislature and Gov. Doug Burgum have set the stage for two potential lawsuits in the waning days of the legislative session.

Burgum's signature on an abortion bill last week could spur an eventual court challenge. And lawmakers are bracing for Burgum to perhaps file a Supreme Court challenge to a bill he believes encroaches on his executive authority.

Monday is Day 67, and the Legislature has to hustle to meet a goal of finishing work in 72-75 days. The House and Senate still have most major spending measures and some policy bills embroiled in conference committee negotiations.


The North Dakota Constitution limits the Legislature to 80 days of meetings every two years. In the final days of the North Dakota Legislature, conference committees of three House members and three senators are chosen to reconcile differing versions of a bill that has been approved in both chambers. Once a deal is done, the legislation returns to the full House and Senate for approval.

While some policy-related measures may be close to agreement between House and Senate negotiators, there remain sharp differences about the final details of spending bills as lawmakers struggle to agree.

As of Friday, the Legislature was more than $800 million short of a producing a balanced budget that's required under the Constitution.

The House will hold three floor sessions daily most of the week, while the Senate plans two to help finish their work.



Legislative solidarity between parties is near non-existent at the state Capitol. But when it comes to protecting their turf, Democrats and Republicans are in almost universal agreement.

For the second time in as many sessions, lawmakers and the first-term governor are disagreeing over the balance of power, with each accusing the other of overstepping authority.

The Legislature overwhelmingly handed Burgum his first veto setback since taking office, overriding his rejection of a bill that defines the authority of a group of legislators known as the budget section.

Republican legislative leaders say they won't be surprised if Burgum asks the Supreme Court to settle the issue. Again. Last session, the high court sided with Burgum over his argument that the Legislature ceded too much spending authority to the budget section.

The bill passed by the Legislature attempts to remedy the high court's concern, giving the panel authority to "approve specific actions, projects and transfers."

Burgum has not commented on a potential lawsuit. Last session he called the one filed by the Legislature against his administration a waste of time and taxpayer money.



The Republican governor did agree with the GOP-led Legislature that it should be a crime in North Dakota for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb.

Except in cases of an emergency, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Burgum's approval of the bill marked a victory for anti-abortion advocates who were not certain if he'd sign it, given his relative silence on abortion issues in the past. He also refused to comment on why he signed the bill.

The bill becomes effective if a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement. A similar law in Arkansas is being decided in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota.

The director of North Dakota's sole abortion clinic in Fargo said her facility's lawyers would wait for a decision in the Arkansas case before deciding on possible legal challenges to North Dakota's legislation.



It's a proposed presidential library for Theodore Roosevelt but many people around the Capitol refer to it as Burgum's.

The governor's push to commit $50 million in interest from North Dakota's oil tax savings account to help build the facility in western North Dakota has been perhaps his biggest single lobbying project since taking office.

Despite personal telephone calls and invites by Burgum to the governor's mansion to be pitched the idea, lawmakers have been generally cool on the proposal, saying the state has more pressing needs.

But the governor was thrown a bone last week by Republican Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who introduced legislation that will provide $50 million in interest money from the state's oil tax piggy bank to fund operating and maintenance costs of the Medora library.

The money would have to be matched by $100 million in private fundraising to build the facility.

The legislation also provides $10 million from the state's Legacy Fund earnings to digitize presidential documents at nearby Dickinson State University, which is in Wardner's district.