N.D. Senate passes GOP ethics reform bill

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Senate approved a GOP bill Wednesday that develops rules to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at ethics reform.

But the initiative’s sponsors — and some Democrats — said the House measure passed by senators largely along party lines does not reflect what voters wanted when they approved reform in the midterm election.

The bill sponsored by GOP leaders won’t pass “constitutional muster,” despite exhaustive work by a bipartisan committee that crafted amendments to the legislation, said Dina Butcher, a spokeswoman for North Dakotans for Public Integrity, the group behind the constitutional amendment to toughen ethics rules.

The endorsement comes almost two months after the Senate unanimously approved a Democratic bill that also seeks to comply with the so-called anti-corruption amendment that includes provisions to restrict lobbying and create an independent ethics commission.

That Senate bill is awaiting action in the GOP-led House.

Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern, sponsor of the Senate bill approved earlier this year, told fellow lawmakers the House measure has “big, gaping holes” and may actually create more loopholes for lobbyists and gift-giving, an argument also made by the initiative’s sponsors.

“The citizens of North Dakota are saying ‘we want more transparency. We want rules we can understand. We want government more accountable,'” Mathern said.

Republican Sen. David Hogue, a lawyer who helped craft amendments to the GOP bill, said he believes the measure complies with the will of the people. He disputed the notion that the bill would open more loopholes than it fixes.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and his Senate counterpart, Rich Wardner, are the primary sponsors of the GOP bill. Wardner has characterized their bill as a starting point to comply with the reform measure.

Wardner said the two bills also may be melded into a single bill before the Legislature adjourns. Wednesday was Day 69 of the session that is limited to 80 days.

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