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House targets higher ed auditors, attorneys: Legislation to freeze tuition fail in state

BISMARCK -- Frustrations with missteps by the North Dakota University System played out in the House on Wednesday as lawmakers voted to eliminate the system's internal auditor and attorney positions and move those functions to other state agencies.

BISMARCK - Frustrations with missteps by the North Dakota University System played out in the House on Wednesday as lawmakers voted to eliminate the system’s internal auditor and attorney positions and move those functions to other state agencies.
Members voted 60-32 to hire six auditors in the state auditor’s office and six attorneys in the attorney general’s office to oversee the university system and provide legal services to the state Board of Higher Education and its 11 institutions, at a total cost of about $2.8 million in 2015-17.
“These two pieces are absolutely critical to reform in higher ed,” said Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that recommended the changes.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, cited the high level of turnover of auditors in the system office and violations of open records and meetings laws as examples of why the change is necessary. The board and its institutions have violated open records and meetings laws 15 times since 2011, according to records compiled by Legislative Council.
“There’s a need here for high-quality, consistent advice. That’s the goal here,” Sanford said.
Opponents warned that the changes would result in a loss of valuable expertise, limit universities’ access to legal services and possibly require buying out contracts of attorneys who would be laid off.
“I think this is an absolutely terrible idea,” said Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo. “… These are North Dakota folks who have families to raise and children in school.”
The changes are included in House Bill 1003, the system’s budget bill. House members voted 80-12 to approve the budget portion and 69-23 to approve the bill as a whole.
Two bills aimed at freezing tuition were defeated.
House Bill 1043, which would have frozen tuition rates at the system’s five two-year colleges, failed 15-77. Rep. Mark Dosch,2 R-Bismarck, said the bill was no longer necessary because House members have already approved legislation giving the Legislature the authority to set tuition rates, which is effectively a freeze.
House Bill 1233, which would have frozen tuition at all 11 campuses, also was defeated 30-62 on the same rationale. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, argued that allowing lawmakers to set tuition doesn’t guarantee it won’t go up.

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