Republican lawmakers counter that plenty of ethics laws are already on the books.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democratic lawmakers want to form a panel to investigate alleged acts of wrongdoing by politicians, though similar efforts in the past have been thwarted by Republicans who control the Legislature and believe it already follows high standards of conduct.
Democratic House Minority Leader Corey Mock, of Grand Forks, has been unsuccessfully pushing for years to establish an ethics commission in North Dakota, one of only a handful of states without such a panel. Similar efforts by Democrats to create an ethics commission have been defeated in the past three sessions largely along party lines.
Mock told the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that the bipartisan committee would prepare a legislative code of ethics that would be presented to the Legislature.
Mock said in an interview that his bill was not prompted by any ethics problems he has observed. But he believes a law now is better than one enacted later in response to an ethics scandal in the Legislature.
Supporters of the measure believe without an ethics panel and better-defined rules for lawmakers, North Dakota could follow South Dakota, where voters in November approved a sprawling anti-corruption act that created an ethics commission. However, a Republican-backed bill how moving through the South Dakota Legislature aims to repeal the initiative. The embattled law isn't in effect while a legal challenge from GOP legislators and others moves forward.
The North Dakota Legislature has a broadly worded ethics policy in its official rules, including a requirement for periodic classes for lawmakers on ethical issues. Also, state law has a number of restrictions that apply to legislators, such as a ban on using knowledge gained as a lawmaker for personal gain.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, of Fargo, calls Mock's bill "a solution in search of a problem." There already are laws on the books for illegal lobbying, bribery, conflicts of interest and other offenses, he said.
"If you break the law, it doesn't matter if you are a legislator or a citizen, you are going to have to face the consequences," Carlson said.
Dennis Cooley, a professor of ethics and philosophy at North Dakota State University in Fargo, told the House committee that an ethics panel is "an extraordinarily good idea."
"Our legislators are good, decent folks with nothing to hide, and making this small change shows they are dedicated to the good governance they promised their constituents when running for office," he said.
The House committee took no immediate action on the measure.