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North Dakota Ethics Commission requests attorney general opinion; bill drafts in works for 2021

North Dakota Ethics Commission requests attorney general opinion; bill drafts in works for 2021

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Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

North Dakota's Ethics Commission is asking for an attorney general opinion amid its rulemaking process.

Commission Executive Director David Thiele said the five-member board is seeking clarification on "our authority to expand on the definition of 'lobbyist' as it relates to gifts." A time frame for receiving an opinion is unclear.

North Dakota voters in 2018 approved the Ethics Commission in a constitutional initiative that also included a lobbyist gift prohibition that takes effect in January. Related rules are to be adopted by then. The 2019 Legislature passed Republican majority leaders' framework for implementing the measure.

"Regarding gifts, when we looked at the statute and the direction we were going, the statute that the Legislature passed last session didn't cover all of the people that we have jurisdiction over," Thiele said. "We believed it was too narrow, so in our gift rule, we were going to expand on that, so that's the clarification we're looking at from the attorney general."

The commission already has rolled out its website, adopted complaint procedure rules, and established a confidential complaint hotline and email address. It's in the midst of its rulemaking.

To date, the commission has declined all three complaints it has received.

The board had to adjourn its meeting early on Thursday due to technical difficulties. The next meeting is Aug. 12, when discussion will resume on the four-page draft gift rules, which the commissions plans to finalize before the Legislature convenes in January. 

North Dakota Ethics Commission website goes live
North Dakota Ethics Commission declines 3rd complaint
North Dakota lawmaker proposes bill drafts to resolve conflicts in ethics laws

The Legislature's interim Judiciary Committee on Wednesday reviewed several bill drafts related to the Ethics Commission that could advance for the 2021 session.

Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, walked the committee through her two bill drafts that "address the friction points" between constitutional and new statutory language passed in 2019 related to the Ethics Commission. Since its first meetings last fall, the new board has discussed apparent conflicts between duties and definitions in state law and the constitution.

Hanson, who is seeking a second term, said her proposals would "strengthen our new Ethics Commission's ability to do its job and strengthen North Dakota's campaign finance and lobbyist rules."

House Speaker Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, who chairs the committee, introduced a bill draft that would allow lawmakers, lobbyists and candidates for state and legislative office to request advisory opinions from the Ethics Commission. The bill is modeled after State Bar Association of North Dakota procedures.

"It's kind of looking for guidance where there's a question that's not really answered directly by the statute or a rule or the constitution, and it's a matter of interpretation and you're going to the Ethics Commission in advance of doing something," Klemin said.

Thiele also led the committee through commission-proposed legislation that includes complaint procedures and Klemin's proposal.

The committee will take action on the lawmakers' bill drafts at its next meeting in September. Other bills could come during the 2021 Legislature.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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