New rules on legislative floor debates?

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 10:15 AM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Just a little more than a year into their existence, the State’s Ethics Commission has already passed new anti-gift rules for lobbyists and lawmakers. But with the session only a few months away, they’re looking to other states for how to handle conflicts of interest.

State lawmakers meet in the Capitol for 90 days every two years, which means if they’re not retired, they have other careers.

But what happens if a bill is brought to the floor and one lawmaker’s industry is directly affected by it?

That’s what the Ethics Commission is looking into before January. When the commission was approved and created, one of its top priorities was investigating and determining  conflicts of interest.

But now those members have to balance their mandate with the reality of who they’re regulating.

“There may very well be situations where legislation comes up before the legislature or the governor where they may have an interest in it, but at the same time they have a duty to do their job as an elected official,” Commissioner Paul Richard said.

Here’s how the process would go: Let’s say a bill on grocery stores is brought to the floor. Some lawmakers in North Dakota are grocery store operators. Those specific members would have to publicly state they’re job title, and the chamber would vote on whether this is a conflict of interest. If the chamber says “no,” the member can stay. If “yes,” that member can stay in the chamber, but is not allowed to debate nor vote on the bill.

Some lawmakers say there’s a line between conflicts of interest and needed insight.

“People in the industry have a lot of knowledge into that certain bill. I would hope that their input would be valuable,” said Sen. Shawn Vedaa, R-Velva.

Vedaa, who recently sold his grocery store, added that he would hope other lawmakers would notice if someone was taking advantage of a situation.

These new rules are used in other states like Nevada, Texas and Montana but have not been approved nor finalized by the Ethics Commission.

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