5 things to know today: Felony charges, State emails, Ethics panel, Tax bracket, Ombudsman program
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Former North Dakota man accused of assaulting officer during Jan. 6 riot at US Capitol
A former North Dakota man was arrested Tuesday, April 11, in New Mexico on felony charges for his alleged actions during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
FBI agents claim that Rockne Gerard Earles, 62, who previously lived in the Barnes County town of Oriska, was among the group that overwhelmed U.S. Capitol police and forced their way in, attacking officers along the way.
During the 27 minutes that Earles was in the Capitol building, he allegedly attacked a police officer, court documents said. The same police officer was attacked several times on Jan. 6, and was later concussed and out of work for 45 days, according to court documents. Court records did not list an attorney for Earles as of Thursday.
“His actions and the actions of others disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress convened to ascertain and count the electoral votes related to the presidential election,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said.
Read more from The Forum's C.S. Hagen
2. North Dakota lawmakers pass bill to preserve state emails after deletion of Stenehjem’s account
In response to the elimination of late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s emails, North Dakota lawmakers have passed legislation that would raise the bar for retaining records belonging to top public officeholders.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 1528, which lays out how state agencies should preserve email records and what happens if they don’t. The proposal goes to Gov. Doug Burgum, whose spokesman declined to comment.
Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, previously said he devised the legislation after the deletion of Stenehjem’s emails revealed “a lack of checks and balances” in the state’s record retention policies.
Three days after Stenehjem’s death in January 2022, state information technology officials deleted the late officeholder's state email account at the direction of Liz Brocker, a longtime assistant to the Republican attorney general. Brocker also instructed state IT officials to eliminate former Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel’s email account after he resigned in May.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
3. Bill for changes sought by North Dakota ethics panel goes to Burgum
From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service
Proposed changes to the North Dakota Ethics Commission's procedures are going to Gov. Doug Burgum.
Left out of the bill is the panel's request to add nearly 9,000 state employees to its oversight authority.
The Senate on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 2048 , advanced by the Ethics Commission, in a 45-1 vote. The bill cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, 79-10.
The commission brought the bill for several requested changes to state government ethics laws. They include extending the time frame to notify an accused person of an ethics complaint, and adding criteria for who can make complaints.
The ethics board has oversight of elected and appointed officials of the executive and legislative branches, members of the governor’s Cabinet, members of the Ethics Commission and legislative branch employees.
The ethics panel originally sought to add about 8,960 executive branch employees to its jurisdiction over “public officials," citing the move as "an equitable expansion" because legislative branch employees already are under the board's authority. The Senate State and Local Government Committee cut that proposed expansion from the bill.
4. DFL lawmakers weigh new tax bracket for top-earning Minnesotans
As Minnesota lawmakers piece together a tax bill, a new higher tax bracket is on the table for the state’s highest earners.
It’s a move supporters say will bring needed ongoing funding for state programs, but opponents argue it could hurt business growth and push high earners out of the state.
The House Taxes Committee is considering a fifth new tax bracket that would create a 10.85% tax for individual filers making more than $600,000 a year. The earning level for joint filers would be $1 million. It would go into effect for the 2023 tax year.
Bill sponsor Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul, who has carried a similar proposal in the past, told the tax committee this week that while Minnesota has a historic $17.5 billion budget surplus, much of that is one-time cash and the new bracket would be necessary for creating ongoing revenue for the state.
“From our farmers to our families in the city … in order for us to provide the resources they need to have good quality of life we do need to have increased dedicated revenue sources,” she said at a Tuesday hearing.
Read more from Forum News Service's Alex Derosier
5. State-contracted middleman to handle disputes between royalty owners, oil companies in North Dakota
Royalty owners have long quarreled with North Dakota’s powerful oil industry over access to information and disputed fees, but recently approved legislation means the feuds will soon be channeled to a state-contracted mediator.
Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday, April 12, signed Senate Bill 2194, which passed through the Legislature with broad support.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Dale Patten, R-Watford City, will create an ombudsman program to help sort out payment issues between royalty owners and oil companies.
Starting this summer, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring will be allowed to contract with “local individuals, deemed trustworthy by the mineral owners, lease owners, and mineral companies, to be ombudsmen.” The program comes with a price tag of $500,000 over the next two-year budget cycle.
Lawmakers and oil lobbyists said an independent intermediary could help improve relations between royalty owners and companies by bridging gaps in communication.
Patten previously said he’s hopeful the proposed ombudsman program would address most of royalty owners’ complaints outside of court.