The Legality Of The North Dakota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund Should Be Challenged Immediately

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Reading outdoors reporter Brad Dokken’s column in the Grand Forks Herald today, you’d get the sense that certain legislators were trying to ban Ducks Unlimited and Pheastants Forever from participation in a newly-created conservation fund.

In fact, Dokken states that explicitly:

The bill Dalrymple signed laid out guidelines for the advisory board, but the House tried to stack the deck against conservation groups April 16 when Rep. Peter Silbernagel, R-Casselton, inserted language into SB 2242 — an unrelated bill about hunting licenses for disabled veterans that earlier passed the Senate — that would have prevented Pheasants Forever, DU and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust from serving on the advisory board.

Silbernagel’s amendment only targeted the three conservation groups — and not farm organizations and energy groups that will have representatives on the board to advise the Industrial Commission on spending the Heritage Fund money. …

Silbernagel’s amendment to ban the three groups from the Heritage Fund board passed the House 94-0.

Dokken may want to get out a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “ban,” because that’s not what Rep. Silbernagel’s amendment aimed to do. Rather, it would have removed specific mention of Ducks Unlimited and two other conservation groups from the legislation. Far from banning those groups, who would still be eligible to serve, when a previous iteration of the legislation named those groups to oversee the conservation fund it effectively banned every other conservation group from participating.

Unfortunately, the legislation that has emerged from conference committee maintains DU’s and Pheasants Forever’s explicitly-required involvement.

And therein lays the legal problem with this deeply flawed bit of policy. Forget the foolishness of creating a $30 million-per-biennium continuing appropriation for conservation whether the state needs that much spending on conservation or not, by naming some special interest groups – conservation, business, agriculture, etc. – to advisory positions for this board the law is, by definition, leaving other groups out in the cold. There are at-large memberships that other groups could fill, but that’s not the same as having a permanent position under the law.

Essentially the law gives some groups an advantage not afforded to other groups. That’s not only unfair, it undoubtedly violates constitutional requirements for equal protection under the law. You simply cannot create policy that explicitly gives certain special interest groups a seat at the table, but not others.

It would be nice to see this law challenged in court immediately, and struck down as illegal.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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