Republican leaders submit bill to “clarify gray areas of Measure 1”

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner

North Dakota citizens voted in November to approve Constitutional Measure No. 1, which had the goal of increasing transparency, regulating lobbyists, and establishing a North Dakota Ethics Commission. While the measure partially outlined this process, there are many ambiguous phrases and redundant provisions that require legislative clarification. The bill we’ve put forward enacts the will of the voters while providing certainty to North Dakotans that they can participate in the democratic process.

The bill covers six primary objectives. First, this bill increases transparency as required by the measure. It sets up new transparency rules in three areas: 1) legislative and statewide elections; 2) lobbying; and 3) influencing state government action.

The measure required certain executive branch officials to avoid conflicts of interest. Under the bill, officials must disqualify themselves in a proceeding if they are biased or otherwise have a conflict of interest. If there is bias or a conflict, the official can be fined or prosecuted.

The bill brings further clarity to the regulation of people who are lobbyists. It prohibits a lobbyist from delivering a campaign contribution on behalf of a third party. It also establishes clear rules regarding gifts to public officials, which was ambiguous in the measure. The measure prohibited lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials in various situations. The bill clarifies that lobbyists may not give gifts to public officials if its value is over $60, unless it’s in appropriate educational or social settings. It also defines penalties for violations of this provision. This dollar amount is in line with previous disclosure requirements.

Finally, this bill establishes an Ethics Commission and due process. The Ethics Commission will have authority to proscribe rules just as other agencies do. The bill authorizes the Ethics Commission to hire staff and investigators and appropriates adequate funding for the operation of the Commission. The bill also establishes due process in the making and handling of a complaint and sets forth an appeals process. The process to form the Ethics Commission will begin once this legislation has been approved.

The legislature has always taken ethical considerations very seriously. The measure was not perfect, but we have worked hard to establish guidelines that give our citizens, lawmakers, and other parties the clarity necessary to stay involved in our political process. It was important for us to protect the public interest while also preserving the spirit of the measure. We believe this bill accomplishes that.