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Three petitions seeking to repeal laws from the 2019 legislative session are due in coming days to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

Dickinson electrician Riley Kuntz is leading the efforts to place referendums on the June 2020 primary ballot. They would target new laws related to a restriction limiting the state auditor on launching certain audits, a budget provision creating an endowment fund for a proposed Theodore Roosevelt presidential library and a bill passed to shield lawmakers' communications with state employees from open records.

Petitions for the latter two referendums are due Thursday and Tuesday, respectively. Kuntz said Friday his group is still "a couple thousand" signatures short of the 13,452 needed for each to be placed on the ballot.

The petition on the auditor restriction is due July 31, with more signatures still "rolling in," Kuntz said.

"There’s still a push to get what we need," he said. Petitioners will be at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot and other local events throughout the state.

Kuntz has called the proposed library "a gross misappropriation of funds," while the other laws are a "fail of transparency."

Lawmakers said the auditor's restriction was about improving communication, while the open records exemption was to indirectly protect constituents' questions that lawmakers share with state employees, such as behavioral health in schools. 

Gov. Doug Burgum has said the library referendum "would have a low chance of passing."

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"If they get the signatures, I'm confident it'll be defeated," Burgum said last week. "And if they don't, we won't worry about it."

Burgum praised the proposed library for its economic and tourism potential in his biggest push of the legislative session.

Since the session, the governor has been involved in fundraising for the project, including June events in New York City. Burgum has said $52 million has been pledged to the project, which needs $100 million to build the library before the $50 million endowment fund can be used for operation and maintenance.

State Auditor Josh Gallion, meanwhile, said Wednesday he won't seek legal action on the restriction requiring lawmakers' approval for performance audits. He's abiding by a recent attorney general opinion that the new law is likely unconstitutional as a separation of powers violation. State lawmakers also have expressed no interest in a lawsuit.

But Gallion also said he hasn't kept up with the referendum effort.

"I'm not aware of any of those, what's going on with that, where they're at," Gallion said. "My hope is that (law) can be undone next session."

Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken is a member of the sponsoring committees for the proposed referendums on the auditor restriction and the law shielding lawmakers' emails. He has said his involvement is due to an interest in government transparency.

Both the auditor restriction and library provision have taken effect. The law shielding legislators' emails with state employees takes effect Aug. 1.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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