Scary virus outbreaks in North Dakota

Just in time for Halloween, health scares that can shake your very liver: Dozens of people in Minot have tested positive for Hepatitis C, mainly associated with a nursing home that isn’t being named.

Meanwhile, people in Eastern North Dakota are being warned about possible Hepatitis A exposure at several specifically named churches.  Sure seems a lot easier to avoid places that the public health department names, now doesn’t it?

Omdahl on corruption

Lloyd Omdahl offers an interesting take on reducing corruption in the North Dakota Legislature in Monday’s Grand Forks Herald.  The former lieutenant governor and political scientist suggests the use of ethics rules by the Assembly to preclude membership of corrupt officials.

In the Legislative Article of the North Dakota Constitution, we find that Sections 9 and 10 provide language that could be construed as “corrupt practices” provisions. These two sections provide for the expulsion of legislators involved in bribery.

But it is Section 12 that broadens the scope of disciplinary action and offers a chance to take charge of “corrupt practices” in legislative races.

This section declares that the each house shall be the judge of the qualifications of its members and states that the chamber may expel a member with a two-thirds vote of the body.

This language means that the chambers may establish standards of corrupt practices that could be used to determine the seating or unseating of members. And this could be done without a constitutional amendment, since the authorization already is in Section 12.

By bypassing legal or constitutional pathways, Omdahl’s approach is theoretically easy to implement, but is also being equally easy to suspend, alter, or abolish.  And it also relies on the legislators themselves suddenly developing the moral sense that they presently lack.

The only context I can see that exact process happening in is a half-hearted response to the defeat of a voter initiative, much like the recent changes to North Dakota’s animal cruelty laws.

Blue Cross fills in some of the information gap

After scores of complaints, you can get a quick estimate of the actual price of healthcare from HealthCare.gov, if you don’t mind being lectured to about how “estimatey” it is.  A somewhat better example of how it should be done is at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota’s site.

As helpful as this calculator is compared to the alternative on HealthCare.gov, don’t go rushing to buy. The problem with the BCBSND calculator is that it’s designed to sell you BCBSND insurance.  And since the healthcare exchanges aren’t working properly, comparing what they offer to the plans from Sanford or Medica is tougher than it ought to be.

Hoeven drives forward on privacy

Amy Klobuchar and John Hoeven are working on a driver’s privacy bill, to deal with one of the smaller mass surveillance programs in the United States, the “black box” event data recorders installed in nearly all new cars.

The announcement comes with neither bill text nor even a bill number, so I shall wait to see how leaky the real measure is.   The pitch is that this bill will prevent anyone from simply taking your data, unless they say it’s for a traffic safety study.

So long as that “Traffic Safety Study” provision is not the loophole that your insurance company uses to ruin your day, it’s probably a good piece of legislation.

Canada’s Senate tossing out 3

Canada’s Senate, which consists of appointed members that serve permanently until death or age 75, has never been viewed fondly by fans of government efficiency.

Three Senators in particular have been under fire for making unwarranted expense claims, a scandal that’s been brewing all summer, though the Senate itself is only just now getting around to punishing them.  It’s a rare moment of accountability for the Senate, which historically has been the the lounge car of the gravy train.

With the public outcry over the latest round of waste threatening to derail the whole thing, the best strategy for a sitting Senator would seem to be to throw the bad apples under the bus, and hope the Senate doesn’t get abolished after the next election.

North Dakota goes tilting at windmills

North Dakota challenged Minnesota’s renewable energy law in federal court in arguments this past Thursday.  Minnesota’s law sets ambitious goals for the purchase of clean energy by Minnesota utilities.

This has the indirect effect of reducing the value of coal power in the Minnesota power grid, however, so some large North Dakota generating plants sued Minnesota over it, and North Dakota itself joined the case.

I can understand the coal industry’s motives for the lawsuit, but I don’t understand the reason for extensive involvement by the State of North Dakota.  After all, North Dakota is also home to wind and hydroelectric generation whose value is increased by the Minnesota legislation.