Legislature passes ethics measure, despite concerns about 'whistle-blowers' | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Legislature passes ethics measure, despite concerns about 'whistle-blowers'

Apr 26, 2019

The Legislature has passed a bill to begin the implementation of the new Article 14 of the state’s Constitution – the Ethics article.

It was passed by voters last November. It establishes an Ethics Commission, and required the Legislature to establish standards when it comes to ethical conduct.

"Probably the most important thing I can say about this bill is that it's a work in progress," said Sen. Dick Dever (R-Bismarck). "It's a blueprint."

Dever said this will allow the Ethics Commission to set some “rules of the road” for ethics for state officials and Legislators.

"When we come back next session, we may see some things that need further clarification in statute," Dever told the Senate. "The Commission may see things they would like to see further clarified in statute."

Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) objected to language in the measure, requiring a complainant to give a name and address. She told the Senate that defeats the purpose of the confidential “whistle-blower” hotline that is part of Article 14.

"What we have done is tell the Ethics Commission, if somebody calls in a complaint and not put a name to it, they have to ignore it," Oban said. "That's where I was done."

But Sen. David Hogue (R-Minot) said there seems to be confusion over “confidential” versus “anonymous.”

"There is no mention in Article 14 of anonymous complaints," Hogue said. "It is a precisely drafted Constitutional amendment that talks about confidential complaints."

Hogue also said the US Constitution guarantees the right of the accused to confront the accuser.

The bill is now on its way to Gov. Doug Burgum – who has also put out the call for people to apply to be on the Ethics Commission.

A similar measure has been turned into a study of the ethics issue over the next two-year period.