Tracker Pixel for Entry

Interest groups lobbying on the taxpayer dime

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | November 5th, 2015

Like every other state in the union North Dakota has a host of state boards and commissions that were created to administer licensing and discipline for various occupations.

Yet increasingly the mission of these groups has crept into the arena of political advocacy.

During the 2015 legislative session at least seven regulatory boards had lobbyists registered to be able to lawfully work to influence legislators, according to a database maintained by the secretary of state’s office. The boards included the Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors, the Board of Nursing, the Board of Physical Therapy, the State Board of Architecture, the State Board of Dental Examiners, the Board of Podiatric Medicine, and the State Board of Medical Examiners.

During the 2014 campaign season the State Bar Association used legally required licensing dues to spend tens of thousands of dollars on defeating Measure 6, which was aimed at reforming child custody laws.

Whatever your position on that measure, the use of licensing fees to pay for political activism was dubious from a legal and ethical standpoint. Ultimately the Bar Association was sued and issued refunds to its members.

Yet the larger issue with official regulatory boards morphing into political advocacy groups remains. Change, though, may be on the horizon.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem may have put a roadblock up on this mission creep last week. “It is my opinion that a state agency or political subdivision may not use public funds to hire a lobbyist,” Stenehjem wrote in a letter opinion requested by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson), “unless such authority is specifically provided for by statute or if the state agency or political subdivision has authority to promote or advocate in specific subject areas.”

That seems clear enough. Unless the law explicitly allows for it, state regulator boards may not hire lobbyists.

What prompted Wardner’s request was a heated battle over Senate Bill 2354, which sought to address a shortage in dental services by creating in the law an “advanced dental hygienist” position. The people filling this position would have been allowed to do some of the more routine procedures -- tooth extractions, for instance -- that are now reserved by law to dentists.

The Board of Dental Examiners hired a lobbyist to fight the bill, no doubt because the dentists saw it as watering down demand for their services. After all, people paying an advanced dental hygienist to pull a tooth would not be paying a dentist for that service, and that’s not good for the bottom line of dentists.

But, again, whatever your position on that reform of the law, should dentists be able to use their regulatory board as an instrument of advocacy to defeat it? Should the citizens supporting the bill, perhaps including some dissenting dentists, have to fight off a political campaign orchestrated by an official state agency?

The Board of Dental Examiners was certainly very successful during the legislative session. SB2354 bombed when brought to the Senate floor, losing on a 6-40 vote despite getting a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Human Services Committee.

There’s nothing at all wrong with working to influence the political process. Oftentimes Americans use the term “lobbying” as a sort of epithet, but really anyone who has ever expressed an opinion on an issue to someone in a position of official authority is guilty of the practical definition of the term, if not the legal one.

We wouldn’t have a democracy if those making policy weren’t available to be influenced by their constituents. If the dentists don’t like the idea of advanced dental hygienists, or if the lawyers don’t like proposed changes to child custody laws, then they have every right to speak their minds either individually or through some private organization.

But the key word is “private.” These powerful occupational interests shouldn’t be able to bend official licensing and discipline boards to their political will, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to use legally required licensing fees -- which, by law, are state dollars -- to pay for their activism.


In fact, it might be time to question why we’re even bothering to license some of these occupations. I’m looking at you, North Dakota Board of Barbering.

RECENTLY IN

Say Anything

Tracker Pixel for Entry Ruth1 Tracker Pixel for Entry District21 Tracker Pixel for Entry Brifki1 Tracker Pixel for Entry Heidi3 Tracker Pixel for Entry Josh1 Tracker Pixel for Entry Kylie1

Recently in:

FARGO – Ellen Chaffee wanted to know how much lobbyists were spending to influence North Dakota legislators. Online searches ended in dead ends. As the founders of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, Chaffee and Dina Butcher…

by Ryan Jankeryanjanke@hpr1.comZero Gravity Alternative Fitness will present their annual Halloween showcase this Saturday at their studio in south Fargo. The event, aptly named Poletergeist II, is a chance for students and staff…

Wednesday, October 24, 6:30 - 8 p.m.Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 University Drive S., FargoBring the kids for candy and fun! This family-friendly halloween event has fun for everyone! There will be trunk or treating outside, a…

This weekend I was showing a friend of mine some Fargo hotspots. He was visiting from the West Coast, so naturally I was playing up the Midwest’s many charms. He mentioned that one thing that differed from the West Coast was the…

Gadfly

Goodbye Democracy!

by Ed Raymond

How today’s “christians” hammered the nails into the hands and feet of christHistorian Christopher Browning, who has spent a lifetime studying the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and the World War II era of Europe, has expressed…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.com The scent of sauerkraut will be in the air next Wednesday when the Wishek Association of Commerce hosts the 93rd Annual Sauerkraut Day festival in Wishek, ND.The city of Wishek is situated 30…

We started our interview with JBOT, Captured! By Robots front man, captive and creator by playing a small bout of phone tag. You see, his internet went out and that sent his mind racing. Once we touched base, he said, “For a…

Damien Chazelle’s fourth feature follows the trajectory common to the careers of many ambitious and talented filmmakers honored with Academy Awards: the dissipation of rawness and experimentation as budgets, expectations, and…

I came to Mineral Point, Wisconsin for the art. The tiny town among the rolling hills about 50 miles southwest of Madison is home to just 2,491 souls and 25 art galleries and studios. Any community with that much creative energy…

by Stella Mehlhoffstellamehlhoff@gmail.com“Our mission is to invigorate civic conversation through intimate and transformative storytelling.” This statement posted on Theatre B’s website and tacked to their studio wall in…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

Beer Snob

Warm up with a hot toddy

by HPR Contributor

by Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.com Fall is once again upon us. The leaves are turning, gardens have been pulled, and Summer’s heat has waned into Autumnal frosts. Along with the change of seasons comes a change of seasonal flavors.…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

By Melissa Martinmelissamartincounselor@live.comThink back to one of your worst small decisions. Then answer the following questions:How did you make the decision?What happened after the decision?When did you know it was the worst…

There are two ways to look at the recommendation of Administrative Law Judge Patrick Ward that the North Dakota Public Service Commission dismiss the complaint against that (expletive deleted) Meridian Energy for failing to get a…