A Senate committee heard testimony Friday on a bill that would allow political subdivisions to use public funds for hiring lobbyists.
The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee heard nearly 45 minutes of testimony from lobbyists and groups that currently represent cities and counties on Senate Bill 2313.
Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said SB2313 would allow political subdivisions, like other organizations and interest groups, to hire lobbyists.
“I think we should be addressing this issue,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong noted that cities already can hire what are known as special city attorneys that serve as lobbyists. He said in effect lobbying is already going on.
“I think the special city attorney thing is, quite frankly, a loophole you can’t close,” Armstrong said.
Four cities currently have special city attorneys for lobbying purposes: Fargo, Williston, Minot and Jamestown.
Pat Finken, president of Odney Advertising, spoke in favor of SB2313. He said it provides another tool for local governments facing challenges to work to get assistance from the state. He used oil patch communities and communities addressing flood recovery and flood control as examples of how additional lobbying options could prove helpful.
“There is no question that the first line of contact between political subdivisions and legislators should be and remain with the local elected official and staff,” Finken said. “But the challenges have prompted some political subdivisions to seek help in working with the Legislature.”
Mark Johnson, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Counties, spoke in opposition to SB2313. He said the issue of lobbying by political subdivisions was addressed in the 1970s.
Johnson said at that time, some communities felt it necessary to lobby the Legislature to more directly address their needs.
“There were stronger cities and stronger counties and there were weak cities and weak counties,” Johnson said. “What resulted was a sort of ‘arms race’ as some attempted to gain greater influence.”
As a result of the debate, Johnson said, the Association of Counties and the North Dakota League of Cities were legally permitted in order to represent their needs.
No action was taken Friday on SB2313. Sponsoring the bill along with Armstrong are Sens. David Hogue, R-Minot, and Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, and Reps. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, and Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo.