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 Tempest Tracker Pixel for Entry HPRONLINE Tracker Pixel for Entry TAKAPRIL4

Recently in:

After nearly two and a half years since the people of North Dakota voted to pass the Compassionate Care Act into law in the state, medical marijuana is finally available to patients. Only one dispensary is open right now, but seven…

It was an, “aha,” moment, said Jeremy Jensen. A woman had her vehicle towed into the Fix It Forward Auto Care shop in Moorhead. Jensen and fellow Fix It Forward Auto Care co-founder Matt Carlson had the vehicle on a hoist…

Thursday, April 18, 5-9 p.m.Drekker Brewing Company, 1666 1st Ave N, FargoThe folks at Drekker have partnered with a handful of area artists and the Lend A Hand Up program. A program providing help and hope to families facing…

In 2016, the Rand Corportation’s National Defense Research Institute published a year-long study looking at potential consequences for transgender members to serve within the U.S Military. This study looked at seven different…

The Nordic ModelDr. Thea Hunter, a graduate of Columbia University and an adjunct professor of history at a number of elite colleges and universities, recently died at age 63 of extreme capitalism—and asthma—because of lack of…

Cocktail Showdown

​Yo ho ho!

by Sabrina Hornung

Well shiver me timbers. After weeks of sampling some of the finest drinks in F-M from more bars than we could shake a belaying pin at, the results of High Plains Reader’s 6th Annual Cocktail Showdown are in! For nine weeks,…

After three years Jon Beyer aka “Jonny B” has become the face and the beard behind Jonny B’s Brickhouse in Jamestown North Dakota. Besides the largest selection of craft beers between here and Bismarck, wood-fired pizzas and…

By Gary Usseryusseryg@gmail.comFYB. Three letters, three words, well known by the guys who make up Cascades, and anyone who is a fan of the five-man band. When asked what genre best describes their sound, I was bombarded with at…

Harmony Korine keeps a tight grip on his title as one of the most critic/critique-proof filmmakers of recent times with “The Beach Bum,” a sultry companion piece to 2012’s memorable “Spring Breakers.” Not without its own…

Arts

​Hold your head high

by Sabrina Hornung

“I started to look around at state arts council positions because I felt that even though I had never done that, I felt like it would be a really good blend of skills, so I started to look around in 2016. A few jobs came up but I…

Countless examples can be found throughout the history of great art that was only recognized as such after the life of the artist that created it. Such is true of Georges Bizet’s opera "Carmen."  While its reception during his…

Stand-up comedy is traditionally a one-way exchange. Outside of the odd question addressed to a random audience member, the limit of the spectators’ contribution to the conversation is their laughter at the comedy stylings being…

By Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comThink & Drink is coming to Fargo! Organized by Humanities North Dakota, Think & Drink is a happy hour series that hosts a facilitated public conversation about big issues and ideas. Lead by a…

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 Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

It seems like the threats to North Dakota’s Badlands never cease. Let’s go back and revisit Wylie Bice. He’s the rogue, rich, rancher up in Dunn County, on the eastern edge of the Badlands, who’s built himself a private…