Rod St. Aubyn: My Legislative Christmas List

With Christmas just a few days away, I thought I would present my Legislative Christmas Wish List.  After reviewing my list I found it necessary to pare it down to the top three.

Behavioral Health Improvements

I must compliment Rep. Chuck Damschen and members of the interim Human Services Committee for their thorough study of the behavior health needs in our state.  Our state is faced with critical shortages of behavioral health professionals and services to deal with serious needs in the area of mental health and substance abuse.  Behavioral Health stakeholders across the state have come together to develop a long range plan to address these priority needs.  The problems have developed over many years and the solutions will take many years to correct.  Rep. Damschen’s committee approved several bills to begin to address some of these pressing issues.  It will also take coordination and cooperation among many of the different behavioral health professionals.  The issues affect every part of our society including schools, law enforcement, the courts, corrections, human services, the military, and many, many more areas.  As has been reported lately our jails and prisons are maxed out.  Many of the situations should be corrected with treatment versus incarceration.  The Governor recognized these needs and proposed over $6 million dollars to begin addressing the most critical needs.  I hope that the Legislature approves these bills that will not only create positive impacts in our schools and judicial system, but will ultimately decrease the demand for our jails and prisons.

Changes to Open Meetings/Open Records Laws

Generally our state has very good open meeting and open record requirements.  However, as has been reported in the past these requirements have no real “teeth” to ensure compliance.

First of all, completion of an on-line training course should be required for all “public entities” and especially the board members and administrators.  Funding should be provided to the Attorney General’s Office to develop this course and have it made available to the “public entities”.  Current violations ultimately are up to the district attorneys to prosecute, which never occur.

Secondly, there should be new administrative penalties established and assessed for violation of these open meeting/open record laws.  The penalties can be made to be progressive, meaning the first offense does not have to be excessive.  However when there is a pattern of continuous violations as has been the case in higher education, these penalties should escalate to ensure that the public entity becomes compliant.

Lastly, the penalties should be assessed to the individual (if possible) who is ultimately responsible for the violation rather than the public entity itself.  After all, if the public entity pays the penalty in reality it is the taxpayer that is really paying.  When top administrators or board chairs have to fork up the penalty my guess is that they will be much more cognizant of the open meeting/open records laws and do anything possible to ensure continuous compliance.

Election Law Reforms

My final wish list item is that of election law reforms.  I was disappointed to see no legislative pre-filed bills address this issue.  As witnessed during this last election, numerous violations of campaign contribution requirements, candidate residency questions, and “corrupt practices”, such as omission of appropriate disclosure statements, have been alleged.  Once again, most of these situations do not have a reasonable corrective action.  Some require action by the district attorney, which is improbable, while others may result in an independent audit, which to the best of my knowledge has never occurred.  As a registered lobbyist, I also think that the laws pertaining to lobbyists need some reforms to ensure compliance with current requirements.

Our election laws need updating.  I would hope that the legislature takes this up as one of their interim studies for the 2015-2016 interim period and propose several bills for the 2017 Legislative Session to update our antiquated election laws.  As one example, the current law requires that any candidate website have the required disclosure statement (Paid for by …).  However does this current requirement apply to candidates that host a Facebook site?  Is that a website?  Facebook sites are free, so would the disclosure statement (Paid for by…) really apply?

Other than the bills that I will be lobbying for this upcoming session, I really want this list of items passed by the legislature.  What is special about these items, I won’t be the only person receiving these gifts – all North Dakota citizens will.

In closing, I want to wish all the SAB readers a very Merry Christmas and I hope you get to spend some quality time with those special friends and family.  Happy Holidays.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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