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Burgum veto draws rebuke for 'no-brainer' carbon monoxide bill

BISMARCK -- Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in certain rental properties drew a rebuke from a Colorado man who advocated for the legislation after losing his daughter to the odorless gas.

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Gov. Doug Burgum, pictured here at the opening of North Dakota's 65th legislative assembly Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, vetoed a bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in certain rental properties. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
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BISMARCK -- Gov. Doug Burgum’s veto of a bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in certain rental properties drew a rebuke from a Colorado man who advocated for the legislation after losing his daughter to the odorless gas.

The North Dakota House sustained Burgum’s veto on House Bill 1201 Wednesday, April 26. It required residential rental property that includes a wood or other fuel-fired fireplace, heater or appliance or an attached garage to be equipped with carbon monoxide alarms, with some exceptions.

Don Johnson of Windsor, Colo., testified in favor of the bill earlier in the session. His daughter, Lauren, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2009 while attending graduate school at the University of Denver.

Since then, Johnson has advocated for carbon monoxide detector requirements in other states, and stood next to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as he signed legislation last year requiring detectors in apartments and new homes.

Between 2011 and 2015, 20 North Dakotans died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and Johnson said the bill would have brought rental property in line with existing requirements for other residences.

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Johnson said he was shocked and dismayed by Burgum’s veto.

“(Burgum) has made a decision that will cost lives and will result in injuries to innocent people,” he said in an interview Monday.

In his veto letter, Burgum cited the principle of “individual responsibility” and noted carbon monoxide detectors are available at retail stores.

“While carbon monoxide represents a very small, yet measurable life safety risk in residential rental property, this risk can and should be managed by local building codes, property owners and renters themselves, rather than burdensome statewide regulations,” he said.  

Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, said the governor wouldn’t have any further comment beyond the veto letter.

Rep. Kathy Skroch, R-Lidgerwood, agreed with the first-term governor. She said people have a personal responsibility to protect themselves.

“We, as a government … I think have to be mindful of not imposing regulations on private enterprise,” Skroch said on the House floor last week. “If you have ice on your sidewalk, you should probably salt it. But it’s a personal responsibility.”

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Willison, said he was surprised by the governor’s veto and called the bill a “no-brainer.” He said the bill simply intended to ensure landlords provided a safe environment for their tenants.

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Kari Newman Ness, president and CEO of the Jamestown-based Newman Signs, lost her father to carbon monoxide poisoning in 2014 after he accidentally left his car running in the garage. Although he didn’t live in a rental unit, Newman Ness was still disappointed in Burgum’s veto.

“But I understand he has a job to do,” she said. “These things are not personal for the governor. They’re kind of personal for those of us who have lost people this way.”

Newman Ness said she may take the governor’s suggestion about local control to heart and advocate for changes in local building codes. She said Newman Signs, which her father Harold founded in 1956, will probably conduct an awareness campaign on the importance of carbon monoxide detectors.

“It’s very important that people have them,” Newman Ness said. “Whether it’s rental units or single-family homes, whatever the living situation is.”

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