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Port: Controversy over lawmaker expelled for harassment may reignite as the end of the legislative session nears

"It's not about reinstating Luke [Simons]," Rep. Jeff Hoverson told me. "Obviously it's a response to what happened to Luke, but it's about the future."

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Republican Rep. Jeff Hoverson, primary sponsor of a bill to ban mask mandates, spoke to demonstrators on Monday, April 5, 2021, outside the North Dakota Capitol. (Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service)

MINOT, N.D. — The debate over expelled former Bastiat Caucus lawmaker Luke Simons has loomed over the 2021 legislative session in Bismarck.

Now, with just days left in the session, that debate may be reignited by a Simons ally and fellow member of the Bastiat Caucus.

Rep. Jeff Hoverson of Minot — who is officially designated as a Republican though he confirmed to me that he does not attend Republican caucus meetings or pay dues, "the Bastiats are my caucus," he said — will likely attempt to introduce a delayed bill by way of a floor vote.

Typically those bills go through the Delayed Bills Committee, which is chaired by House Majority Leader Chet Pollert , but Hoverson told me Pollert "forgot" about his bill and isn't willing to have the committee take it up at this late date.

So Hoverson will bring the bill directly to the floor.

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"It's not about reinstating Luke," Hoverson told me. "Obviously it's a response to what happened to Luke, but it's about the future."
Hoverson said his bill, which he said he was still working on, would consist of two initiatives. First, it would require an independent investigation before any lawmaker could be expelled. Second, it would prohibit the release of "personnel files" that consist of "unsubstantiated accusations" from being released to the news media.

The second part of the bill was inspired by a file of accusations of harassment against Simons being "leaked" to me, according to Hoverson, though he corrected himself when I pointed out that I obtained the records by filing an open records request.

Many of Simons's supporters have demurred from defending his behavior, but have argued that he wasn't afforded due process when a 69-25 majority vote of the House — including 55 Republicans voting yes — expelled him .

This despite Simons having been approached about his behavior by leadership and lawmakers multiple times over the course of years.

"We didn't have a chance to sort through anything, really," Hoverson told me of the process that led to Simons' expulsion. "Take Luke out of it, would you want that to happen to you? It was really very irresponsible. Egregiously irresponsible."

Is something like this even possible?

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House members I spoke to said lawmakers can introduce a delayed bill even this late in the session without action from the Delayed Bills Committee. The bill can be brought up during a floor session, and if it gets supermajority support, it can be introduced.

Rep. Sebastian Ertelt , a Bastiat Caucus lawmaker from Lisbon, attempted this maneuver recently with a delayed bill opposing vaccine passports. He was unsuccessful.

Hoverson's effort would almost certainly meet the same fate. There were 69 votes for expelling Simons earlier this year, the likelihood that Hoverson could get a supermajority to re-litigate that issue, especially just days away from the end of the session, is almost non-existent.

"He's basically just trying to embarrass everybody," one House lawmaker told me. "This is not serious lawmaking. All this will do is drive a wedge between that group (the Bastiat Caucus) and the rest of the Legislature."

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Related Topics: INFORUM BISMARCKGOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCHET POLLERT
Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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