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Bills look to reform reviews of legislative auditor

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A pair of bills brought by Republican lawmakers would reform how the legislative auditor is reviewed, hired and fired.

Sens. John Esp of Big Timber and Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls brought the bills to the Senate Legislative Administration Committee on Monday morning.

The bills come after a clash last year between Legislative Auditor Angus Maciver and former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration, following a disputed audit of the state’s Medicaid program. The audit, which used different metrics than the administration says was allowed, alleged higher incidences of fraud that could result in the federal government clawing some of those payments back. The liability claim temporarily delayed the administration from selling about $80 million in infrastructure bonds.

The dispute spilled over into Maciver’s two-year contract being considered by the Legislative Audit Committee and whether Democrats on that committee would vote against renewal. With equal members of both parties on the committee, the contract would have died on a tie vote. The contract was renewed last June on a 8-4 vote for a contract through June 30, 2022.

Esp’s bill would change the review process for the legislative auditor to match those of other legislative divisions. Essentially a tie vote would no longer negate a contract during re-appointment, meaning a majority would have to vote against renewal in order to remove the auditor.

Rep. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman, served as vice chair on the audit committee and testified in support, saying it would treat the legislative auditor as directors of legislative services and the fiscal division.

Fitzpatrick’s bill would reform the committee’s review process when considering a contract. Citing the contract dispute last year, the senator’s bill would not allow consideration of agency reviews of the audit to be considered during a re-appointment process, thus giving an agency a voice in the auditor that is charged with reviewing their programs and finances.

Fitzpatrick was concerned that the quality of audits could be compromised should an auditor be concerned that negative agency reviews could result in losing their job.

Hayman testified against the bill, saying the committee spent significant time looking at review metrics and working to improve communication between the agencies and the committee to fairly evaluate the auditor’s performance. The bill would limit that sort of feedback, she said.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bills.

Lee Newspapers State Bureau chief Holly Michels contributed to this story. 

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State Reporter/Outdoors Reporter

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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