BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Legislature and its Republican governor have garnered attention worldwide and made the state ground-zero in the latest round of the decades-old abortion fight. As the Legislative session marches into April, abortion is still the biggest topic at the Capitol but other issues remain, including oil taxes and animal cruelty.
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North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem initially told The Associated Press that lawyers from his office would defend any lawsuits that arise, but his office is now considering hiring outside help.
The two-year budget for his office, which has some 30 attorneys, is about $60 million. Stenehjem said the cost of litigation is unknown but his office expects to have an estimated dollar amount that could be presented to lawmakers this week.
"We're looking at a sufficient amount to adequately defend these enactments," Stenehjem said.
He expects lawsuits to be filed in federal court "but that's not up to us," he said.
Under federal law, he said, "Whoever loses generally has to pay attorneys' fees for the other side."
North Dakota lawmakers have shunned critics' repeated attempts to set aside money for the inevitable lawsuits.
Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, thrice tried to amend bills to set aside $1 million for the sure-to-come litigation but each of her amendments failed.
Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans have been vocal in saying it's irresponsible for lawmakers to pass such controversial measures without setting aside money to fight court battles.
"North Dakota taxpayers at least deserve to know the cost of litigating these bans," said Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider, the Senate's minority leader and a Grand Forks attorney.
The North Dakota Legislature's move to enact the most stringent abortion laws in the nation likely could backfire, with the state on the hook for both sides' litigation costs, Schneider said.
"The possibility of paying attorney fees for the other side of this should concern everyone in North Dakota," Schneider said.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple is awaiting the arrival of another anti-abortion bill on his desk.
The governor signed three bills last week that gives North Dakota the strictest abortion laws in the country, but he stopped short of saying whether he will sign the fourth, which would ban that procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that fetuses feel pain at that point.