BISMARCK — North Dakota's House majority leader said Tuesday, July 2, that State Auditor Josh Gallion should follow new requirements placed on his office despite an attorney general's opinion deeming them likely unconstitutional.
"This is the law," Carrington Republican Rep. Chet Pollert said. "The state auditor should be abiding by that law."
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican, issued an opinion Friday arguing a court would find that a new law requiring legislative permission to conduct certain audits violates the separation of powers doctrine. Pollert said Tuesday that's "just his opinion."
"But that is not my opinion. I think that opinion is not correct," he said, arguing the state Supreme Court is the arbiter of a law's constitutionality.
Stenehjem's opinion concludes by citing a state Supreme Court case in saying the document "governs the actions of public officials" until the issue is decided by the courts.
Gallion, a first-term Republican, said Friday his office would conduct business as usual because it "would be improper to follow an unconstitutional law." He didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
Pollert, who chairs a powerful committee that oversees the Legislature's work between regular sessions, said he's not looking "as of today" to take the auditor dispute to the state's highest court, and legislative leaders have said they wouldn't convene a special session. Asked what lawmakers may do if Gallion moves ahead with a performance audit without notifying them, Pollert said "we'll wait and see."
Pollert called for the auditor and a legislative committee that keeps tabs on his work, known as the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, to have "open communication."
"I don't see why that can't be done," he said.
The legislative audit committee is scheduled to meet in two weeks at the state Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said Monday lawmakers would abide by Stenehjem's opinion. On Tuesday, he again defended the Legislature's actions but said he's "fine with just letting things be as they are" until the next legislative session in 2021.
Wardner said lawmakers weren't attempting "to do a power grab," but instead were concerned about requests for additional auditors and the effect on state agency budgets. Lawmakers doubted they would use the new requirements to impede Gallion's work.
Lawmakers also required the audit committee's permission for Gallion to contract for work required by the federal government.
The restrictions prompted a citizen group to launch an effort to overturn the law through the ballot box. Supporters indicated they're moving forward despite Stenehjem's opinion.