North Dakota Senate advances bill for transparency of lawmaker-landlords
Bill is tied to lawmakers who are landlords to the state, notably a representative who co-owns a building leased by the late attorney general and involved in a cost overrun uncovered last year.
BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers are advancing transparency requirements for who is leasing buildings to the state government.
The bill is tied to the issue of lawmakers who are landlords to the state, notably a Bismarck-area representative who co-owns a building leased by the late attorney general and involved in a construction cost overrun uncovered last year.
The North Dakota Senate on Tuesday passed House Bill 1288 by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, in a 46-1 vote with no discussion.
The state House of Representatives last month passed the bill, 87-3. The bill goes back to the House for concurrence on the Senate amendments.
The bill would require state leases and rental agreements to list owners with an interest of 10% or more in the leased property, as well as owners of state-contracted property management companies with an interest of 10% of more.
Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, said the amendments add "sunshine requirements" of the bidding process for projects using public funds, including advertising requirements and acceptance of "the lowest responsible bidder."
"We found a couple sections of code where there was ability for projects to happen using public funds but not having to follow these two sunshine requirements," Roers told the Senate.
Another amendment also does not require the disclosure of a third-party property manager, or one hired by the building owner, not the state.
The bill follows an interim legislative study on leasing as well as new Attorney General Drew Wrigley's disclosure last June of the $1.8 million building cost overrun incurred under his late predecessor, Wayne Stenehjem, who died in January 2022 at age 68 due to cardiac arrest.
An investigative report prepared for lawmakers by State Auditor Josh Gallion last fall noted Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, as a co-owner of the attorney general’s leased building at 1720 Burlington Drive in south Bismarck. Dockter also co-owns Parkway Property Management, which upgraded the building for the attorney general.
Dockter was Stenehjem's campaign treasurer in 2016 and 2018. The lawmaker has said he and Stenehejm were friends, "but it didn't have anything to do with" the building.
Roers Jones has said her bill seeks transparency and “is not specifically directed at one episode or issue.”
The 2021 Legislature arranged for the interim Government Administration Committee to research state-leased property and whether any restrictions or prohibitions should be imposed on state officials and lawmakers who lease to state government. That included reviewing a list of state agency space needs and leases, including lessors. Some corporations didn’t provide or refused to provide names of their owners.
The study unfolded before Dockter’s ownership in the attorney general’s building was made public. The committee did not recommend any related legislation to the 2023 Legislature.