BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate rejected a bill originally aimed at shedding a light on the costs of protecting and transporting the state government's top executives Wednesday, March 13.
The original bill, introduced by Finley Republican Rep. Bill Devlin, a former newspaper publisher and frequent defender of open records laws, was focused on the governor and lieutenant governor. He told a House committee last month that there was an "unprecedented" level of security for Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican who came into office in late 2016.
The bill was later amended to cover all elected officials. It would have required the state Highway Patrol to produce quarterly reports for legislative staffers on the costs of protecting and transporting politicians, and the Department of Transportation would have been required to do the same for air travel.
The reports would have been considered open records under the bill.
Backers said the bill would improve fiscal transparency and wouldn't threaten security. But the head of the state Highway Patrol, Col. Brandon Solberg, worried it would open the door to detailed information about the governor's protection becoming public knowledge.
"The current level of transparency is working," said Fargo Republican Sen. Kyle Davison, the chairman of the committee that gave the bill a unanimous "do not pass" recommendation before it failed on the Senate floor in a 30-15 vote.
Burgum’s office was the subject of a state audit last year that described an “inappropriate” use of state aircraft, though the governor defended the travel as a “prudent” use of taxpayer money. The audit also said there were "no issues" to report regarding the security provided by the Highway Patrol, but it didn’t provide details “due to the confidentiality of executive security.”
The governor's office has declined to discuss Burgum's security. Solberg previously said a survey conducted in 2016 showed his agency “was well below the national standards for executive security,” prompting “ongoing improvements.”