ND House of Reps kills Beef Commission election bill
In a 67-26 vote, the North Dakota House of Representatives killed a bill that would have created an election process for the North Dakota Beef Commission.
After a bill to make the state beef checkoff voluntary died by a narrow margin in the House in 2021, the interim ag committee heard concerns about the makeup and operations of the NDBC.
The Independent Beef Association of North Dakota asked the interim committee to support a bill that would create a hybrid committee in which some members would be elected and some appointed. I-BAND said that many producers in the state, including their members do not feel like the NDBC represents them.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association asked the interim committee to maintain the status quo of the NDBC as they support the makeup of the commission and believe it fairly represents all producers.
Existing statute calls for a board of nine voting members on the NDBC which is by law required to be non-partisan and is not allowed to lobby.
The North Dakota Beef Commission collects about $2,376,000 each year – $1 for the federal Beef Checkoff and $1 for the state Beef Checkoff each time a beef or dairy animal is sold in the state.
Federal law requires that half of the federal Beef Checkoff funds be forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the national Beef Checkoff oversight group. The Beef Commission has the discretion to spend the remaining half of the federal dollars for promotion, research and education of beef.
Four of the members are North Dakota Stockmen members, one is a dairy representative, one is a livestock auction market representative and three are at-large. All members are appointed by the governor.
Individuals can self-nominate for the at-large seats, and organizations can nominate members for the at-large seats. I-BAND, which as existed for about 20 years and has about 300 members, has never had a member of theirs selected for an at-large seat or any of the other seats.
The North Dakota Stockmen say that about 8 of the members of the NDBC are also members of their organization.
Representative Beltz, District 20, Hillsboro, who served on the interim committee, sponsored HB 1436, which would have established a election process to allow all beef checkoff contributors to vote on NDBC members.
In the House Ag committee and also on the floor of the House, Beltz spoke against his own bill, saying that it would be too difficult to determine which producers would be eligible to vote in an election.
Several other House members testified similarly, saying that they support the idea of an election process but that there was no clear way to establish a list of producers who could vote.
Representative Henderson, District 9B, Calvin, in committee, supported the election process and said that people are “smart enough to figure this out.”
“I’m all for the election process. I think they can figure it out. I say we give them the election process,” she said.
Three House members identify themselves as ranchers. Two of them (Hauck and Schatz) voted in favor of HB 1436 while Kempenich voted against the bill. Kempenich told TSLN that he had planned to vote for the bill but changed his mind at the last minute due to concerns over the questions raised over which producers would be eligible to vote.
On the House floor, Representative Holle, District 31, spoke in opposition to the bill, fearing that the 37 dairy producers in the state would not be fairly represented through an election process because they would lose their guaranteed seat on the commission.
USDA census data indicates that approximately cattle 8,500 producers exist in the state
I-BAND’s Vice President August Heupel said his organization supported the issue because “Every producer would have a vote and a say in their representation on the beef commission.”
He said some tried to make the issue out to be contentious between his organization and the ND Stockmen, but that wasn’t the purpose of the bill. “This was designed for the individual producer – affiliation or no affiliation – to vote and have a say on their representative for the North Dakota Beef Commission.
“We’re just looking for a broader voice, a more diverse board,” he said.
“At it’s core, an election process is the most truly representative way to get our voice heard,” he said.
“In response to the legislators saying this isn’t their fight, I respectfully disagree. The North Dakota Beef Commission right now belongs to the state. We have nowhere else to go but to go to the capitol and try and seek a change,” Heupel said.
“We’re not going to give up on this. We’re not going to give up on an election process and a broader way to have a voice on the beef commission,” he said.
I-BAND has criticized the North Dakota Beef Commission for the more than $600,000 producer dollars it spends with the Federation of State Beef Councils, a division of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which is a lobbying organization.