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Dem-NPL goes after Berg for supporting 1995 cut to workers' comp benefits

The state Democratic Party has resumed its scrutiny of Republican U.S. House candidate Rick Berg's voting record regarding North Dakota workers' compensation.

Rick Berg
Rick Berg

The state Democratic Party has resumed its scrutiny of Republican U.S. House candidate Rick Berg's voting record regarding North Dakota workers' compensation.

Meredith Pickett, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, issued a Friday news release that further reviewed votes cast by Berg, a state representative from Fargo since 1985.

He's running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who has been in the House since 1992.

Documents provided by Pickett show Berg voted for 1995 state House Bill 1252, which changed Workforce Safety & Insurance state laws to no longer include "a mental injury arising from mental stimulus" as a compensable work-related injury.

That bill was approved 80-17.


Pickett told the Herald this vote is just one example of what Berg and his "anti-worker caucus" in the state have done over the years: cut benefits for North Dakota workers.

"And there were many laws cutting benefits like this," she said.

But Tom Nelson, a spokesman for Berg, said the Democrats' latest news release "is still the same negative tactic" that was seen last week -- a distraction meant to divert attention away from the national issues that Pomeroy and the state party don't want to discuss.

"They don't want to talk about that, and they know that North Dakotans are fed up with that," Nelson said.

Voting record

The Democratic-NPL Party has recently gone after Berg for what they claim to be "anti-worker" votes in his record.

On July 23, state party Chairman Mark Schneider issued a news release that called for Berg to take responsibility for helping defeat 2003's House Bill 1317.

His statement said the bill, if it hadn't been defeated by a 48-46 vote, "would have allowed North Dakota workers to receive help covering the cost of mental health issues caused while at work."


Schneider referenced the recently denied compensation request of Edith Johnson, a Gilby, N.D., bank teller who was seeking to recover medical costs that stemmed from a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis following a May 2009 armed robbery.

But HB 1317 only would have allowed compensation for mental injuries that occurred to police officers, firefighters and other emergency service providers -- meaning it wouldn't have applied in Johnson's case.

In Pickett's Friday statement, she pointed out HB 1252 actually did take away benefits for mental injuries for all workers in the state.

"As much as he would try to run from his record, Rick Berg's actions denied benefits for people like Edith Johnson," she wrote. "He was chairman of the key committee and helped take away the benefits that would have helped her."

But Nelson said Berg's vote was actually a decision to support the future of workers' compensation in the state.

"The truth is WSI was bankrupt in 1995, and Rick Berg and the Legislature worked to save the fund for future workers," he said. "HB 1252 was bipartisan. Remember that without doing this, there would be no benefits today."

Berg's role

Benefits have been enhanced since 1995, Nelson said, and Berg established an interim workers' compensation review committee that finds issues that need to be addressed.


"Rick helped set this up for situations where someone didn't feel like they were treated fairly so that they could take it there," he said.

Pickett told the Herald that the lack of mental injury coverage for state workers has "always been a serious issue and remains a serious issue, no matter what this guy says."

Berg was one of 80 representatives who voted for the 1995 bill to change mental injury compensation. And he cast just one of the 48 votes against 2003's bill for emergency service providers.

But Pickett said Berg had a special role -- both as chairman of the Industry, Business and Labor Committee that the bills passed through and as majority leader in 2003.

"He's shown this leadership role in this issue, and that's why he has to answer for it," she said.

Nelson said the latest news release is simply a political distraction.

"It's to take attention away from what Earl Pomeroy has done out there," he said about Pomeroy's actions in Washington, D.C. "They know that doesn't play here."

This latest attack, Nelson said, is to avoid discussing taxpayer-funded bailouts, health care reform and the growing national debt.


"They know they can't talk about that, so they're going to grind on something else," he said.

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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