John Andrist: It’s Easier to Kill Bills Than Pass New Ideas


ND State Capitol (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)

I had my first Uber ride last night. Pretty exciting!

A friend picked me up in a Uber that whisked us away to a lecture. Afterward my friend poked a few things on her cell phone, then told me the driver would be there in 12 minutes. I think it was only 10.

In a few short months Uber has become the taxi of choice here in Fargo, and all over the  world.

It’s quicker, the cost is charged to your credit card, and the tab is roughly half of a conventional taxi.

Everybody seems to love it except the cab companies. Too bad they didn’t organize, or they probably could have gotten the legislature to stop it.

I’m sorry for the cynicism, but I streamed a session of the House a couple days earlier. They were debating a bill that would create  licensure for dental therapists to work only in licensed dental offices.

It was put together by a consortium of 17 social service agencies, searching for a way to provide some dental care for those who are falling through the cracks.

Surveys show 44 percent of dentists will not serve Medicaid patients. Rural communities often have little or no access to a dentist.The bill asked for no funds. There was no testimony of any threat, danger or dire consequence the bill could pose.

The vision was it could be like physician assistants and nurse practitioners who are fast becoming our primary medical care givers.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It is not high spending lobbyists who call the tune in Bismarck. All too often it is the organized professionals who effectively protect their turf by persuading legislators to reject change.[/mks_pullquote]

Want to know why we can have PAs and NPs, but not DTs?

The answer is simple. Medical practitioners embraced the idea; dentists didn’t.

And here’s a dirty little secret from one of the guys who has been there.

It is not high spending lobbyists who call the tune in Bismarck.

All too often it is the organized professionals who effectively protect their turf by persuading legislators to reject change.

Paid lobbyists mostly function at the committee level where laws are crafted.

When they don’t like what they get, they zip out an e-mail to the people they represent — like doctors, dentists, therapists (and yes, sometimes journalists) — to call their legislators and get them to kill the bill on the floor.

It was pretty clear that this was the sole reason for killing the bill. It became even more clear when the board lit up with red votes.

In the debate one member openly explained he was voting ‘no’ simply because dentists don’t want it.

I was always amazed at the power of these unpaid special interest groups to get or prevent legislation, stifle competition, or prevent innovation.

Twice now the House has killed this idea. To make it happen Republican values may have to change from protectionism to enabling. Or it could happen if the dental lobby develops some social responsibility.

At least one state has adopted legislation licensing trained dental hygienists (the people who clean teeth) to be licensed apart from dentists, instead of being tethered to a dental practice.

Surprise! The cost of getting your teeth cleaned dropped dramatically. But it obviously wouldn’t pass the North Dakota House.

Politics as usual

If the House is guilty of shooting itself in the foot by compromising public health for the welfare of dentists, the Republican contingent has doubly hurt its base by continuing its war on gays, refusing to fix the century code so it harmonizes with the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

They also killed again a bill to assure equal protections for gays, not even attempting to consider amendments.

I’m sure the no voters are sincere. I’m also pretty certain that by now they have alienated gays from Republican support for the rest of this century.

Meanwhile the Senate appears to be poised to assault our constitutional protections for open meetings and open records, ignoring the repeated evidence that people want a transparent government.

The bill would allow state agencies and colleges to hide the names of job applicants.

At the same time liberals have been somewhat more supportive of environmentalist causes like the DAPL protest.

That may please Native Americans and green zealots who are already in their camp, yet it has alienated the other part of their base — union workers who are frustrated because they can’t get to work.

There’s more than enough foot shooting to go around for everyone.

On the other hand the 64 percent of us who voted for the medical marijuana bill didn’t do our homework very well.

The text of the measure was so badly flawed it has been a challenge for the legislature to fix it.

In drafting the medical marijuana measure the authors even failed to include language to amend our criminal code which still makes marijuana punishable. We call that a wet bundle.

In politics particularly you can often say, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”