Legislators Split on how to Enact Ethics Measure. Uncommon Approach Rumored.

It seems there is bitterness certain legislators have toward the public over their approval of Measure 1. We broke down how legislators believe they’re smarter than voters when they introduced SCR 4001. The timing of this resolution in relation to the ethics measure raises suspicions. It doesn’t end there. There appear to be two approaches developing in Bismarck on how to respond to Measure 1. One of the rumored approaches is uncommon in North Dakota.

The first approach is a straight forward bill to enact sections of Article XIV now in the North Dakota Constitution. SB 2148 was introduced by Senator Tim Mathern. The law would prohibit public officials from becoming lobbyists for two years, limits types of campaign contributions from lobbyists, and creates an ethics commission. The bill also recommends a committee meet between legislative sessions to work on other provisions that must be enacted over the next four years.

Mathern’s straight forward bill appears to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Legislature. As reported in the High Plains Reader in Fargo, Republicans refused to sign onto Mathern’s bill. The bill, along with Measure 1, has been met with vitriol and constant complaints from lawmakers in the super-majority.

Instead, we are hearing rumblings of an uncommon approach favored by leadership in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner is rumored to be considering the appointment of a special committee to tackle Measure 1. The appointment of a special committee is very uncommon in North Dakota’s history.

Senator David Hogue

There seem to be only three examples of these special committees. In 1993, there was an Education Equity Review Committee that addressed proposals to respond to the education equity lawsuit. In 2011, the State Employee Compensation System Oversight Committee met to continue the work of a study group. Finally, after the 2015 session was held up by Al Carlson and the House abruptly adjourned because of the PERS budget, the Special Committee on the Resolution of the Senate Bill No. 2022 was appointed to resolve the conflict.

The rumored Chair of the Committee would be Senator David Hogue. Hogue is the sponsor or SCR 4001 that would give the Legislature final say on voter-approved initiated measures. Yesterday during an interview on News and Views with Joel Heitkamp on KFGO, Hogue may have inadvertently confirmed the rumors of this special committee when he told Heitkamp he would, “be on a committee to implement that.You can listen to that interview here. Hogue’s comments on the committee can be found at the 9:30 mark.

A special committee to tackle the provisions of Measure 1 is an interesting development we need to watch. If appointed, will it be full of legislators hostile towards the public and their ethical demands? Will there be attempts slow walk and weaken voters’ wishes much as they did with medical marijuana? Voters demanded ethical standards on public officials in November. They won the day, but the fight isn’t over. Watch for developments along these lines.

Tyler Axness
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