If you’ve paid attention over the past week, you’ve seen that the level of hyperbolic rhetoric in regard to Senate Bill 2063 (Initiated Measure 3 — smoking cessation) is rising faster than the rivers of North Dakota of late.
Citizens must remember that every dollar a state spends on another layer of government or committee, when the job could be done by one that already exists, is a dollar that does not get to someone truly in need.
To be clear, we have never been against SB 2063, the implementation of Centers for Disease Control standards or the level of funding. We’ve opposed only the wasteful provisions of the bill, namely spending money on an executive committee to oversee a control advisory committee that would work with the State Health Department.
When we tried to amend out these clauses, we ran up against a wall of uncompromising legislators who seemed more concerned about installing another layer of management than protecting the health of the citizens of North Dakota.
It’s easier to pass bad legislation which may be popular but poorly thought out than to stand up for what is right. We could simply pass SB 2063, hold a press conference and point to a pile of money we blindly gave a new government office (with little oversight), applauding ourselves while ignoring the fact a great deal of money was being tossed away on office space and unneeded employees.
The right thing to do in the case of SB 2063 was to stop a good but flawed bill and fix the problem.
The amendments as proposed would have spent the same amount as stated in SB 2063 but in a more responsible manner. By removing the executive committee and putting the money in the hands of our fully functioning State Health Department, we shift $500,000 from administration to people with real smoking problems, while leaving the Control Advisory Committee in place for direction and oversight.
Beyond the waste of SB 2063, there are a few other important issues. The bill would have let the executive committee transfer money from the Water Development Trust Fund. This places funding for the Red River Water Supply and Northwest Area Water Supply projects in jeopardy, along with the completion of the Southwest Pipeline Authority and many other water projects at a time when water issues clearly are crucial for the state.
It also could leave gaping holes in the budgets of the Community Health Trust Fund. This is a money stream for great health-related programs such as Women’s Way, heart disease and stroke programs, the colorectal cancer pilot project, EMS training grants and others.
The amendments we support will protect these important projects and programs while maintaining the integrity of SB 2063.
As sworn officeholders, we are charged with reviewing, debating and amending proposed legislation so it best serves the people of this state. North Dakota’s initiated measure system is an important one, but so is the legislative process. The legislature is a check on executive power, a check on judicial power and also a check on the power of initiated measure.
North Dakotans have elected representatives to make sure that bad legislation is not slipped passed the voter. We understand that we have to deal with the health costs of smoking. What we object to is the “all or nothing” mentality our opponents maintain and the smoke screen tactics used to cloud the issue and push a poorly conceived, wasteful, bureaucratic solution to a problem which can be handled by our well-qualified health department.
The authors are Republican representatives in the North Dakota House. Pollert, of Carrington, represents District 9. Nelson, of Rugby, represents District 7. Kreidt, of New Salem, represents District 33. House Majority Leader Carlson, of Fargo, represents District 41.