LegitSlater: My Take on the Measures- 7 and 8

This post wraps up my take on the initiated measures on the November ballot. In week 1 I addressed Measures 1, 2, and 3 (Yes, Yes, and Yes). Last week I covered Measures 4, 5, and 6 (Yes, No, and Yes). This week I’ll finish up with 7 and 8.

MEASURE 7

What it says: This initiated measure would amend section 43-15-35 of the North Dakota Century Code. It would repeal the requirement that an applicant for a permit to operate a pharmacy must be a licensed pharmacist, a business entity controlled by licensed pharmacists, a hospital pharmacy, or a postgraduate medical residency program.

My Take:  Considering how quickly petition circulators were able to collect what signatures they needed to get this measure on the ballot, I felt this issue would not be nearly as contentious as it has been. That isn’t to say that that I didn’t expect there to be robust debate, but the nature of that debate has turned a little caustic these past few weeks.

I must say I am pretty disappointed in how the pharmacists have been portraying themselves and their profession. I expected better from (who we are supposed to believe are) medical professionals. While I was in favor of this measure to begin with, I was willing to listen to their concerns. I lost that interest when I saw angry pharmacists on commercials, and listened to more angry pharmacists not willing to engage in fair give and take during debates. This is behavior not normal for licensed medical professionals. It was an anger that can only be attributed to the realization that the cushy arrangement they had the Legislature set up half a century ago to protect their business model from good old fashioned competition has a good chance of disappearing. They will now actually have to compete, as businesses should. Competition is good not only for the consumer, but ultimately for the industry as a whole as it motivates innovation and continuous improvement.

The current law has its genesis back to a day when the “Big Boxes” (i.e. those evil WalMarts and Targets we are forced to shop at because of that annoying thing called consumer choice) were not really big players in the pharmaceutical market. The bigger concern was doctors directly dispensing the medications they prescribed. Fearing their role as middlemen would be cut out, pharmacists worked to protect themselves from competition by successfully lobbying for regulatory requirements requiring they got between a patient and their doctor — well at least when it came to the sale of pharmaceuticals. If you take a look at the supporter list for Measure 7, you will see names like Sanford Hospital. This reflects the genesis of this law, and shows that it isn’t just about Big Boxes being able to compete for our business. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, hospitals and clinics are not allowed to own their own pharmacies in this state, and there simply is no reason why they should not be allowed to do so.

The pharmacists have also failed to make their case that the services they provide, in large communities and small, are so vital that competition would be a bad thing.Grocery stores also provide a vital service regardless of community size. Many people need prescription drugs for their health and well being to survive, but everyone needs to eat. If the real or perceived “essentialness” of service is to be the determining factor in which business models are protected from competition, then we should have laws protecting grocers from the evil Big Boxes too. This “vitality logic” could be extended to gas stations and many other retail-oriented businesses as well. Indeed the list is only limited by how far we can stretch our imaginations.

The opponents of Measure 7 have also failed to make their case that getting rid of the protection of their business model will automatically cause the closure of the small town pharmacy. That is a huge leap of faith they are asking voters to make on their behalf. Even if some closures do happen (as they claim have occurred in other states), there is not necessarily a clear link to Big Boxes squeezing them out. There are other considerations like a lack of employees, or shrinking populations in rural areas to draw customers from, which can have as much if not more of an impact; just like they have had on other rural businesses (grocery stores come to mind). Even if closures happen, there has been no proof provided as to why having more pharmacies automatically results in better service for patients. Quantity does not always mean quality. Even if closures happen, detractors to Measure 7 have failed to show how the market won’t do in that instance what it always finds a way to do when left alone; create new supply chains or adjust existing ones to meet a gap in demand.

Most importantly, the pharmacists have not shown how what they do continues to justify being shielded by law from having to compete with other businesses who also have the ability — and the right — to ply that trade and benefit consumers as well.

MEASURE 8

What it says: This initiated measure would amend section 15.1-06-03 of the North Dakota Century Code to require school classes to begin after Labor Day.

My Take: If only the language on all the measures up for consideration could be this simple and straightforward.

I have heard both sides of this debate and can see the concerns each presents. All things considered, I see no harm in this one passing. I have heard the arguments that this impacts local control; quite frankly I’ll start taking those arguments from school boards more seriously if they started taking more local responsibility as well. Part of that responsibility resides in actually listening to their constituencies. As I learned more and more on this measure, what was an unfortunate recurring theme is a lot of the support for it comes from parents who tried the local control approach, but were not listened to (sometimes they did not even get a hearing) by those local school boards (sort of like Common Core, but that’s another post for another day).

What did become painfully clear is calendars are set up with staff development days being a (too big) focus, alongside the refusal to consider having such days occur before or after a school year. Not being willing to reconsider how teaching contracts traditionally are written was another painfully clear issue; one that also trumped parental preference. This could all otherwise be referred to as the tail wagging the dog.

School board officials also tried to align this measure with other “mandates” from Bismarck and the Beltway. The problem is many of those “mandates” are tied to the choice they made to accept outside funding. Apparently local control isn’t that important when it comes to accepting a little “free” money. If one considers Measure 8 a mandate, then it can be one tied back to the will of the electorate. I don’t think we can really consider that as much a mandate as it is an acknowledgement that the public school system, like all government institutions, exists to ultimately serve the will of the people who pays for that system.

This measure is also a demonstration of how the initiated measure process can be another check and balance on elected officials. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, “throwing the bums out” isn’t always realistic when we have to elect what is a conservative estimate of one office for every 203 voters in the state. In the end, it is a demonstration of the ultimate local control — the voters who pay for these schools (both as local and state taxpayers) deciding when the year will begin (and only the start date, contrary to popular belief). If this passes, the true impact is that all public schools in the state will begin after Labor Day; far from a crisis in modern education. The school boards are free to decide how their calendars will play out from that point forward. There are smart people running our school administrations and serving on their boards, and I think we are all confident they will find a way to adjust to the changes put upon them by those who are paying for these schools to begin with.

Conclusion

This wraps up my take on the eight measures before us. Including today, you will have seven more days to figure out how you will vote (plus roughly six more days of ads trying to sway your vote). Voting is among the most sacred of rights in our Republic, and your informed participation is vital to the care and maintenance of that Republic. There is not real standard or measurement for what an “informed” voter is; only you can decide for yourself if you are informed.

I would offer for consideration one thing to consider — sticking a proverbial wet finger in the air in the form of deciding based on ads and polls is not being an informed voter. That is simply being a person more worried about being able to say they voted for the winning candidate or side of an issue, than voting their conscience and conviction. Voting is not a “me too” activity. Don’t make it one by being a lazy voter who decides based on who has the slickest marketing, or what the trend is in a snapshot in time poll of a few select voters. Make it a reflection of your individuality, win or lose.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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