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North Dakota Legislature: What to watch this week

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Legislature will take a closer look at itself this week with a package of measures aimed at creating an ethics commission and retooling campaign finance tools.

Also on lawmakers' agenda this eclectic week? Divorces, historic horses, treasury workload and support for Israel.

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ETHICS COMMISSION

North Dakota lawmakers will again decide if they want closer oversight of themselves.

House assistant Democratic leader Corey Mock of Grand Forks is pushing a measure that would create a nine-member commission to investigate alleged acts of wrongdoing by politicians.

The bill is part of the so-called Sunshine Act that also includes a measure aimed at tightening campaign finance rules.

Mock said North Dakota is one of the few states that does not have an ethics commission or committee. And he says it's needed.

North Dakota House Republican majority leader Al Carlson of Fargo has said he believes an ethics commission isn't required.because the Legislature already follows high standards of conduct.

The Legislature defeated an attempt to create an ethics commission in 2011.

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DELAYED DIVORCES

Quickie divorces would be impossible to get in North Dakota under a bill to be considered by the House this week.

North Dakota couples seeking divorce would have to wait at least six months and undergo mandatory counseling. Domestic abuse cases are exempt from the waiting period.

Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, is one of the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation. Larsen unsuccessfully pushed a similar bill two years ago that would have required yearlong wait and 10 hour-long counseling sessions before the split was final.

Critics argue that mandatory counseling does little for couples who are dead set on separating.

Attorney groups also argue that a mandatory waiting period provides more time for violence and financial mischief, while leaving children in limbo.

Don't forget lawyers may lose business, too.

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NOKOTA PONIES

Some believe the horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota are descendants of the ponies owned by the Plains Indians. They call the breed Nokota and are dedicated to its preservation.

The Senate is considering a resolution that urges the National Park Service to "recognize the historical value of the Nokota horse and provide appropriate management."

The resolution says wild bands of the horses were fenced in when the park was created. The resolution accuses the Park Service of changing the "appearance of the wild horses in the park by introducing non-Nokota bloodlines."

Park officials say it is impossible to prove or disprove the Nokota theory because samples of horse genetics from the pre-settler days do not exist. The park says the horses came from ranch stock running loose in the North Dakota Badlands when the park was fenced in the 1950s. The animals were kept in the park as a "demonstration" herd, so the public could see free-roaming horses similar to those in the days when Roosevelt ranched in the Badlands.

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BLOATING TREASURY

The North Dakota state treasurer's office is the smallest state agency headed by an elected official.

The agency has seven employees, including Kelly Schmidt, the state treasurer. The treasurer's office manages cash for some North Dakota agencies and distributes tax collections to local governments. The amount of money the treasurer handles has swelled with North Dakota's oil tax collections.

Schmidt has requested another employee to help out with the workload. She says increased money coming into the state treasury also has increased the work.

Schmidt said when she took office in 2005, her agency had 54 general fund CDs totaling $750 million. The office manages more than 300 general fund CDs totaling more than $2.7 billion now.

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WORLD POLITICS

The House is slated to consider a resolution this week commending Israel "for its cordial and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States and with the state of North Dakota."

The resolution states that North Dakota will support Israel "in its legal, historical, moral and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon the entirety of its own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of lands of others."

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Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/macphersonja

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