Changed WSI bill passes in Senate
BISMARCK - Republican senators who oppose putting the workers' compensation agency back in the governor's control prevailed Tuesday, despite one Democrat's complaint that the vote was an endorsement of Workforce Safety and Insurance's "bad behavi...
BISMARCK - Republican senators who oppose putting the workers' compensation agency back in the governor's control prevailed Tuesday, despite one Democrat's complaint that the vote was an endorsement of Workforce Safety and Insurance's "bad behavior."
As passed, Senate Bill 2257 will have the agriculture commissioner, attorney general and insurance commissioner act as a nominating committee for future appointments to the Workforce Safety and Insurance board or as directors.
That wasn't what Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson, prime sponsor of the bill, originally wrote when it was introduced. He proposed converting the WSI board to an advisory body and returning authority to the governor to hire and fire the agency's director.
He and other Democrats objected when Sen. Nick Hacker, R-Grand Forks, amended his bill completely last week - a practice known as "hog housing" - and fought adoption of the amendment on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Democrats were joined by Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, who co-sponsored the bill with Heitkamp.
"We've got some real problems with accountability in this agency," he told the Senate. "We need to defeat the amendments."
The board now nominates its own replacement members, sending a list to the governor to pick from. Under Hacker's amendment, the agriculture commissioner, insurance commissioner and attorney general will call for and screen nominees and pass along finalists to the governor for appointment.
Workers compensation was governed by a gubernatorial appointee until the Legislature created the independent board in 1997.
Nething and Heitkamp cited a state performance audit released in November in which the state auditor found WSI had "extraordinary" morale problems among employees, questionable leadership practices and disregard for the state's procurement laws, among other problems.
Heitkamp and Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, also noted that auditors found WSI management misused its internal investigators to try to find employees or ex-employees they suspected of distributing an open record of agency salaries.
When WSI investigators used state Department of Transportation driver's license photos to quiz public librarians in Bismarck-Mandan about who used library computers to send the salary list, it had "no other purpose but to intimidate" agency employees, Potter said.
A criminal investigation into WSI's alleged misuse of drivers' license photos is pending.
If the Legislature adjourns this year without taking steps to reform WSI's governance, "WSI becomes unaccountable again for two years," he said.
The vote to adopt Hacker's amendment passed 24-22, with Nething joining the
21 Democrats in the chamber. The full bill passed on a 25-21 vote, in which Potter voted with the majority.
The bill now goes to the House.
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or email@example.com