I left the Red River Valley this past weekend on terrible roads with the wind blowing and 22 degrees above, got to Bismarck and it was 45 degrees and sunny with no wind. I washed my car and marveled at what a different meteorological world I had driven into. When the legislature is in session, Bismarck is also a different political world as the entire state comes into the Capitol looking to promote their interests. Today we dealt with 2245, known as the Blender Bill. It pitted gas refineries and suppliers versus the distributers/retailers over the right to blend and buy ethanol (amongst other things). This was typified as a fight amongst friends by the opposing sides who testified. These businesses work with each other every day to deliver us gasoline and ethanol blends which are exceptionally reliable products. My vote in committee went with our locals who called and asked me to support them. The funny thing is that the local Cenex managers were going against their corporate headquarters position, a fact that I pointed out to their brass while in committee. We are often asked to settle these disputes amongst people who work with each other (pharmacists vs. pharmaceutical benefit managers, neighbors about water, insurance companies vs. banks, etc).
Internecine battles (those which are tough on both sides) are all too common out here. For instance, these past two weeks we have had 2103, which is a struggle to find common ground between microbrewers and beer distributors. There are a few people brewing beer in small batches that want to do more than just sell their own beer out of their restaurant/brew pub. They would like to be able to sell other beer made by their fellow crafters and sell it in containers other than what is called a growler (typically half a gallon) or by the glass. The laws which govern alcohol are a labyrinth of post-Prohibition and are far from uniform around our country. ND has been dominated by distributors who are now making some concessions to the microbrew industry as these small operators try to gain a foothold in our state. This is good for tourism, good for the downtowns which in my experience tend to be the location for these small businesses selling their craft beer. So, what we have done in Industry, Business and Labor is encourage these parties to sit down with each other and hammer something out or we outside their industry will decide it for them. We will vote on that bill later this morning.
Settling battles seems to me to be the major job of a legislature. Of course, the things foremost in our minds include taxes, roads, bridges and education, but there are a myriad of issues important to people that we rarely hear about in the media. Another battle today is 2335, between insurance companies. Would you like to be able to buy insurance for theft or loss of your cell phone at the point of purchase? That would mean check-out people at Best Buy or WalMart (and others) would be selling you insurance. But our local insurance agents do not really want that because store clerks are not licensed insurance agents. And the definition of the portable electronic devices is brutally nebulous so that it could even include GPS units in tractors. So, it is another battle between big national insurance companies (over 40 states allow this insurance to be sold) and the local folks. By the way, on Monday morning it was below zero here too.