The battle over legislation to allow a license for dental therapists, people who would be qualified to do some of the procedures dentists currently do, has been bruising over the past couple of legislative session. The state’s dentists hate the idea, and last legislative session landed themselves in hot water when they used their regulatory board to employ a lobbyist in opposition.
“The North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners did not have the authority to hire a lobbyist to help it fight a controversial bill that would have allowed ‘advanced practice dental hygienists’ to perform certain procedures currently done by dentists, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in an opinion Thursday,” the Bismarck Tribune reported back in late 2015.
Stenehjem also said in his opinion that the board “does not have authority to promote or advocate on any particular issues.”
That’s as it should be. Regulatory boards like the Board of Dental Examiners, participation in which is not optional for the state’s dentists, should regulate. They shouldn’t be political. If dentists want to express a political point of view they should do so through a private organization.
But even after that rebuke from the Attorney General the Board of Dental Examiners continues in their political machinations. This legislative session HB1256 would, if passed, license dental therapists as a way to expand access to dental care in our state.
The dentists still hate it.
Over at Watchdog.org Kathy Hoekstra writes about a phone call meeting of the board during which certain board members expressed a low opinion of the intelligence of state lawmakers.
“There’s just so many things that are not in line with all this, in my opinion,” said Executive Director Rita Sommers on the call. “I have no idea who wrote this or who put it together, but it looks to me like the authors just stuffed dental therapists in whenever there was a dental hygiene term.”
“They’re not qualified to read it, and they don’t want us to be used as a reference, which is what we should be for the legislators,” board member Greg Evanoff said. “They don’t listen.”
I think there are many lawmakers in the Legislature who will be surprised to learn that they aren’t qualified to make law.
Here’s the full audio of the call which Hoekstra provided to me. The call was open to the public in accordance with North Dakotka’s transparency laws:
The end result of the phone call was a statement sent out by the Board to lawmakers opposing HB1256.
Not only is the opposition from the Board of Dental Examiners of dubious propriety, but they seem to be on a bit of an island in opposition. The North Dakota Dental Association is also opposed to the bill, but supporting it is a long list of organizations in our state including the AARP, the North Dakota Dental Hygienists Association, and multiple public and rural health groups.
Given the roster of groups for this legislation, and the fact that the opposition seems to be little more than rank protectionism born of a guild-like mentality from the dentists, I think this legislation should pass.
And lawmakers should consider further restrictions on the political activities of regulatory boards. Because this sort of thing is just unacceptable. The Board of Dental Examiners was created in state law to ensure North Dakotans get dental care from qualified people. It wasn’t created to pursue the political interests of dentists.
Full disclosure: I wrote articles for Watchdog.org until the end of 2015