Roosevelt library bill rouses constitutional concerns
BISMARCK -- Days after passing the North Dakota Senate, the bill for a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library has hit a snag over constitutionality.
House Speaker Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, expressed concerns over the bill — built from amendments that replaced a water project bill — from a provision of the state Constitution that says: "No bill may be amended on its passage through either house in a manner which changes its general subject matter."
"My concern with any kind of amendment like this is it has to be defendable in court," Klemin told reporters Friday, April 19, after a conference committee meeting on the governor's office budget bill, where House members offered an amendment identical to the bill as passed.
Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said the issue is how "germane" the library bill is to the original legislation, but wouldn't comment on the degree of change to the bill.
So-called "hog house amendments," or erasures and replacements of legislation, "are very common," Bjornson added. But differences between such amendments and the original bill are "just a matter of degree," he said.
"They do vary in context and content," Bjornson said.
'A big ask'
The conference committee on the governor's office budget will meet Monday to further discuss the library amendments.
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, acknowledged the library amendment as "a big ask."
"That would give us an opportunity in the House to have a clean vote on the library," Martinson told Senate conference committee members.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said the House could vote on that bill as soon as Wednesday if the conference committee adopts the amendments Monday and the Senate approves the bill Tuesday.
The Senate had passed the library bill 34-13 on Wednesday. Republican majority leaders have said they want the library to be presented in such a way for the House to vote on the library separately.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who brought the amendments to the bill the Senate passed Wednesday, said senators didn't think the amendments' relevance to the original bill would be an issue.
"Why did we do it the way we did it? So the House would have an up or down vote on it," Wardner said.
Lawmakers have considered several vehicles for Gov. Doug Burgum's library proposal, including amendments to budget bills for the Legislature and the state Department of Commerce.
The library honoring the 26th president who ranched and hunted near Medora has been Burgum's biggest push this session. He proposed using $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings for an endowment to maintain the library built from $100 million in donations.
But Wardner's amendments use no Legacy Fund earnings, instead relying on combined funds of $15 million and authorization for a $35 million loan from the Bank of North Dakota for the endowment for operation and maintenance of the library planned for Medora. The loan may be paid off with Legacy Fund money, Wardner has said.
The state's $50 million endowment would only be available after $100 million in donations are raised.
Governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Burgum is "supportive" of Wardner's concept for the library, but declined to comment on its vehicle in legislation, which isn't final.