All states in the Union except four, including North Dakota, have annual legislative sessions. But we wait until we have enough business for a session or problems go to Washington to be solved.
By the time the biennial crowd hits Bismarck, conflicts have multiplied and the Legislature takes on the appearance of a Roman coliseum in which scores of conflicts run concurrently until the last gladiator falls. In this short space, we can comment on only a couple.
The Creeping Marijuana Menace
As you may recall, a couple of years ago the voters approved marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions” including cancer, glaucoma, immune deficiency, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer, PTS* and unknown others buried in the small print.
The legislature is now entertaining bill to add more ailments so the list of eligible users includes everything except acne and toe fungus. (Those will come in the next session.) If we keep adding to the list, we will soon have recreational marijuana through the back door. Everybody has acne or toe fungus.
While the medical profession is still deeply concerned about the long-term impact of chronic use, laypeople are rushing to get an easy fix. Adequate research of long term impact is not available because the marijuana craze is so new.
(*PTS has been included to make legislators eligible for eight weeks after each session.)
What is a Legacy?
Then there is the diversion of oil taxes to something called the Legacy Fund which the Legislature put in the North Dakota Constitution to protect them from being wasted by less intelligent legislatures down the road.
Even though cleverly called a “legacy” fund, it was not intended to be so. The Legislature saw this flood of money coming into the state treasury and didn’t want to explain why certain state needs were being neglected.
Before the oil money came, the Legislature could always claim that it didn’t have the money for anything but heating the Capitol, and that at 62 degrees. With money pouring in, the argument was lost so they had to get rid of it some way. Presto: a Legacy Fund.
“Legacy” suggests that the money will eventually be used for something that will benefit the state for decades to come. Last session, the Legislature took $200 million to balance the state budget, this after cutting the income tax and oil taxes.
Getting an Education on Boards
Even though higher education was removed from the political arena 80 years ago, the political branches of government (legislative and executive) have still not accepted the fact that the Board of Higher Education is an independent nonpartisan branch. Consequently, every session of the legislature comes up with a new idea for running the institutions.
So far this session, we have a three-board plan and a two-board plan, both to replace what we now have which is the one-board plan. By going to a multi-board plan, we would be abandoning the dream of a unified system of higher education. But this has been accomplished with every institution offer every course that every other institution is teaching.
The governor hoped that a three-board system would make higher education more nimble, nimble meaning more responsive, more creative, more energetic, etc. etc., all of which would be frustrated by the authority given higher education in the constitution.
Then there was the short-lived proposal to try privatizing institutions – put them up for bids and see what happens. The sponsor of that bill will not be back in the next session.
If Men Were Angels
In Federalist Paper 51, James Madison concluded that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” In North Dakota, if all legislators and public officeholders were angels, we would need no ethics commission. But they’re not so we do.