Not so fast on SB 2327

Warning…political post ahead. But it’s worth a read, especially if you live in North Dakota.

I recently became aware of a bill that’s being pushed through the North Dakota legislature. And I’m not sure if the word “pushed” even gets close to describing how quickly it’s being hurried along. In fact, it only spent 90 minutes in committee on the Senate side before getting a “Do-Pass” recommendation. Not bad for a bill that’s 153 pages in length. (And yes, I’ve read the whole thing.)

Let me break down a few of my concerns:

  1. This bill creates, in essence, a state Environmental Protection Agency. I’m not sure yet if I’m for or against the creation of a state EPA, but I do know that it should take some time and thought in order to make sure it’s done right. Not just cut and paste certain sections of the existing century code and call it a day.
  2. This bill creates a new division of government. Yes, it’s true that there is already an existing Division of Environmental Health that exists under the Department of Health. This would take that department and make it its own division. Is there something wrong with the current system? Is there a benefit for the new division that we aren’t being made aware of? Grant dollars? Federal money? What’s the carrot for more government when a division already exists? I understand the desire to streamline. But when the department seems to be just a cut-and-paste model of what’s already in place…I don’t understand the point.

    All 153 pages of SB 2327 printed and reviewed.

  3. “Zero fiscal impact.” Come again? You’re going to create a new division of government…with no money? Yes, I know that the bill provides that “any special funds or accounts administered or under the control of the state department of health which relate to environmental quality functions transferred to the department of environmental quality must be transferred to the administration and control of the department of environmental quality.” (Engrossed Senate Bill No. 2327, lines 24-27, pg. 2) Which is a messy way of saying that any money appropriated for environmental stuff now moved into the new department will also be transferred to the department. But can you really start a new division of government with NO added expenses? Even if you just shuffle around existing employees – aren’t there extra costs? What about letterheads? Business cards? Office space? Compensation for council members? Not one more dime will be spent? I’m almost interested in seeing this pass, just to watch this happen. (Not really…that’s sarcasm.)
  4. Speaking of council. There’s a new one in town. The “Environmental review advisory council,” will be established, consisting of 11 members. All appointed by the governor. The members must be: a representative of county or municipal government; a representative of manufacturing and processing; a representative of the solid fuels industry; a representative of the liquid and gas fuels industry; a representative of agriculture; a representative of the solid waste industry; a representative of the hazardous waste industry; a representative of the thermal electric generators industry; a representative of the environmental sciences; the state engineer; and the state geologist. Energy is well-represented – and agriculture gets one seat at the table. Seems a little lopsided to me, for an agency that will dictate what a lot of agriculture will look like in the future.
  5. Did I mention the head of this new division will also be appointed by the governor? The director, as well as the council as a whole, will be appointed to serve “at the pleasure of the governor.” Environmental quality and the people will have no say in who will serve, except by vote of the governor. I’m sorry, but as our elected officials become more and more removed from agriculture, I am not comfortable relying on one person’s ability to know what is best for the diverse world of agriculture we are in. Can one person adequately represent the ranchers of Dickinson, the valley sugar beet farmers, organic growers, niche markets, wheat growers, hog farmers, dairy farms and everything in between? We can’t agree amongst ourselves most days – how would one person be able to encompass it all?

I could go on for longer, but you can read it all yourself if you’d like.

I’m all for streamlining systems and making government more efficient whenever we can…I just am not sure creating a new division will accomplish this. I’ve never seen a situation in which adding more government makes it easier to maneuver and understand. But maybe this would be a first.

Highlighters make me happy.

I’ve spent no less than seven hours studying, discussing and considering this bill. I printed 153 pages of text, made several calls and emails, and delayed my calving checks a few times because I was in a zone with reading and research. (Don’t tell Mark.) In all, I’ve already spent significantly more time than the committee did before issuing a DO PASS. And my monetary investment with printing costs and time spent is somehow more than the fiscal impact that this bill will have on my state.

Excuse me while I go check cows…at least out there I’m well aware of the dung I may step in. I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about. And if you’re just as concerned as I am, there will be a committee hearing for the House at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 3. Maybe your voice should be heard.

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How to dismantle agriculture – a step-by-step guide

For those new to our little family here, I live in North Dakota. We have a legislative session every two years. Unfortunately, this is one of them.

The last few weeks has been extremely taxing. Laws that are extremely polarizing are being passed and our quiet little corner of paradise is getting more attention, and not for the right reasons.

Regardless of my opinion, there are a few lessons learned here that could greatly benefit other organizations, so let me give you a few of my take-away lessons:

To dismantle agriculture, simply plant ideas, rumors and falsehoods. All you need to do is plant the idea, you do not need to give any proof. Human nature will take over from there, and no one will be able to rise above it. Mud will be slung, the issue will be forgotten and compromise will become impossible.

To dismantle agriculture, simply pit one occupation against another. Farmers vs. ranchers, organic vs. conventional, no-till vs. full-tillage, cows vs. sheep, soybeans vs. corn. It doesn’t matter how you break it down, just make sure they feel it’s us vs. them. Competitive natures will take over from there, and no one will be able to rise above it. Personal attacks will ensue, the issue will be forgotten and compromise will become impossible.

To dismantle agriculture, simply make a few well-placed phone calls. Insinuate that leadership is sleeping with the enemy. Who is the enemy? Doesn’t matter, let them make up those decisions on their own. Vengeful natures will take over from there, and no one will be able to rise above it. Membership outcry will ensue, the issue will be forgotten and compromise will become impossible.

To dismantle agriculture, simply make the issue about the procedure, not the outcome. Focus on who will do what, not how it will affect the people or things its meant to protect. Make them so wrapped up on who’s right and who’s wrong, that no one even remembers what the original intent may have been. Self-righteous natures will take over from there, and no one will be able to rise above it. Verbal attacks will take place, the issue will be forgotten and compromise will become impossible.

To dismantle agriculture, simply make it personal. Forget the organization behind the name, call people out, pit friends against friends and neighbors against neighbors. Muddy the line of right and wrong, proper decorum and tact. Throw a few barbs in, just to stir things up. Unforgiving natures will take over from there, and no one will be able to rise above it. Anger and hurt feelings will continually surface, the issue will be forgotten and compromise will become impossible.

Well, that about wraps it up. But I’ll warn you, the above steps are EXTREMELY effective and should not be used lightly.

Pick one or two, maybe three. Start the ball rolling and watch the walls start to crumble.

Oh, and when in doubt, throw the phrase, “It’s just politics,” in the mix. Apparently that’s the miracle cure that excuses all previous behavior.

Disclaimer: The above work is a piece of fiction. It really wouldn’t be that easy, because agriculturalists are smarter than that. Any similarity to actual events is purely coincidental…and sad.

Private school or a glass of milk?

Some days I hate Facebook. I would be living in my own little world, not involved in much of anything, taking it easy, enjoying life…if not for Facebook. (Well, at least I feel like I would.)

What has me in such a tizzy tonight? I came across a news article that someone shared, and it made me mad. Really mad.

To sum it up, the House Education Committee passed a bill out of committee with a Do Not Pass recommendation. Here is how HB 1421 reads:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF NORTH DAKOTA:
SECTION 1. APPROPRIATION. There is appropriated out of any moneys in the general fund in the state treasury, not otherwise appropriated, the sum of $1,239,300, or so much of the sum as may be necessary, to the superintendent of public instruction for the purpose of reimbursing school districts for one snack beverage of either milk or juice each day for students qualifying for the free or reduced school lunch program, for the biennium beginning July 1,
2013, and ending June 30, 2015.

The purpose of the bill? To simply provide a snack beverage (milk or juice) for those kids that cannot afford it.

Now, I’m not upset just because of the mean-spiritedness of voting against this type of legislation. I understand that some people firmly believe that government has no place in humanitarian efforts, and that civilization and communities should be able to take care of their own. And if any one of the representatives that voted against this bill would have stated that specifically as their case, I would be a little more lenient in my disgust.

The 10-3 Do Not Pass vote came down to party lines. And the possible loser in the end? Children who cannot afford an afternoon snack.

Do you want to know what really set me off? Three of the representatives that voted against providing milk to underprivileged children have sponsored a bill that will provide state funding (approx. $10,500 per student, at a total of $32 million per biennium) to those students who choose to attend private school. (HB 1466)

Let me clarify. We cannot provide milk to children who can’t afford it, but we will give assistance to families that choose to use private education.

Does this make sense to anyone?

The only logical explanation I can come up with is the party line vote for the school milk issue. It cannot be a concern on funding, or else three members of the House of Representatives just publicly became the biggest hypocrites I’ve seen this year (although, to be fair, it’s only February, so I’m sure I’ll see more).

Last week at meetings I attended, I heard the phrase “It’s politics” thrown around a lot. And I do understand…to a point. But I think it’s about time we expect a little better from those that are elected to represent us, especially at the state level.

Things to remember at the next election.

Update: I just watched the live video feed from the North Dakota House of Representatives. The bill was voted down, by a very large margin. As soon as I have more details, I’ll pass them on. Thank you, to all who have shared this post.