Democrats call for ethics review, citing Keiser’s WSI actionsBISMARCK — Upset that Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, won’t resign from a workers compensation committee, Democratic lawmakers have asked for a review of the Legislature’s ethics rules.
By: Janell Cole, N.D. Capitol Bureau
BISMARCK — Upset that Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, won’t resign from a workers compensation committee, Democratic lawmakers have asked for a review of the Legislature’s ethics rules.
House Minority Leader Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, and Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson, made the request at a Legislative Council meeting Tuesday, saying their caucus members want to know what the process would be for filing an ethics complaint against another legislator.
Others, including Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, and Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, also raised questions.
“Say a member of a legislative body violates ethics; who (determines if) you broke an ethics rule?” Meyer asked.
No one mentioned Keiser by name at Tuesday’s council meeting. Keiser is not on the council and was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
After the meeting Heitkamp said in an interview that he and Democrats in the Legislature believe Keiser has acted unethically on workers’ compensation issues and is too biased in favor of Workforce Safety and Insurance’s management to be fair to injured workers who come before the Legislature’s interim Workers Compensation Review Committee that Keiser chairs.
The latest evidence, Heitkamp said, was a 26-page memo that former WSI employee Jim Long wrote to state investigators, which resulted in a Forum Communications newspaper story in the past week.
The story and Long’s memo told of meetings that Keiser and Rep. Frank Wald, R-Dickinson, held with WSI executives, the state Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party executive director during the 2007 Legislature. Long said the meetings were to “combat the negative press” WSI had been receiving during the Legislature.
Heitkamp said he asked Legislative Council Chairman Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, last fall to seek Keiser’s resignation from the interim committee and nothing has happened, so Democrats are going the ethics route now.
“If he doesn’t resign, our party is going to take a serious look at steps we have available,” Heitkamp said.
Carlson asked Boucher to put his concerns into a letter and send it to him, and the Legislative Management Committee can discuss it at its next meeting in March.
After the meeting, Carlson said in an interview that “someone has to prove to me (Keiser) has been unfair in the way he’s run the committee.” He said he would need more to go on that just Heitkamp’s demand that Keiser be removed.
Keiser’s Workers Compensation Review Committee hears complaints from injured workers who feel their WSI claims were handled unfairly. After the committee met in 2005-06 and recommended changes, the 2007 Legislature took action to fix several laws that addressed workers’ concerns and which improved benefits. Heitkamp was also on the review committee in 2005-06.
On Tuesday, Keiser said of the meetings at the chamber during the session, “I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.” He said he meets and talks to many groups about WSI and feels it is his obligation as a legislator to meet with them. He said he has talked to organized labor’s conventions and visited with groups of labor representatives during the last session, also about WSI.
Nevertheless, he said, “I’m certainly open to reviewing the ethics code.”
The Legislative Council’s assistant director, Jay Buringrud, told the committee that a review of legislative ethics would be a task for the Legislative Management Committee. As Buringrud described the rules’ authority, Boucher said it seems they are only “a personal code of honor” not something that is enforced.
Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.