The tug of cronyism at the legislature is always strong. Powerful special interests with clear, sizable gains to themselves always have the time and financial incentives to lobby lawmakers. The general public typically don’t.

In making law, however, not every squeaky wheel needs grease. In the legislature, the squeaky wheel should get suspicion.

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition made national news recently by trying to shut down a blogger for giving dieting advice online, threatening him with a misdemeanor conviction, jail time, and thousands of dollars in fines. Carolina Journal reported on the free-speech case as it evolved.

Earlier this year sense seemed to be restored a bit when the board reworked its guidelines to allow the giving of “ordinary diet advice” without a license. But perhaps it was biding its time in rendering moot the lawsuit, with its eyes on House Bill 796.

That bill would do several things to strengthen the Dietetics/Nutrition board, with the primary change appearing to be redefining the primary function of dietetics from “the provision of nutrition care services” to “the provision of medical nutrition therapy.” The new term, with the overarching qualifier medical attached to it, would be defined as “provision of nutrition care services for the purpose of managing or treating a medical condition.”

The bill in its current version lists numerous exemptions from its strictures, however, including those who given nutrition advice to family members for free. It also includes a definition for the “telepractice” of services:

Telepractice. – The delivery of services under this Article by means other than in?person, including, but not limited to, telephone, e?mail, Internet, or other methods of electronic communication. Telepractice is not prohibited under this Article provided that the provision of the telepractice services is appropriate for the client and the level of care provided meets the required level of care for that client. Individuals providing services regulated by this Article via telepractice shall comply with, and shall be subject to, all licensing and disciplinary provisions of the Article.

From this vantage point it is hard to see how much practical exemption these proposed new exemptions would bestow, given the qualifiers on them and given the potentially vast amount of conditions that could fall under “medical condition.”

Paleo Diet blogger Robb Wolf, for example, warns that that provision would be a “remarkably invasive reach” for the board. A side effect of this bill could be a lot of make-work for lawyers. The uncertainty itself might be enough to prevent a lot of service and advice given.

This is, after all, a board that has a history of protectionism (a pernicious side effect of occupational licensing: protecting current practitioners rather than consumers). Any bill that would extend or “clarify” its powers should therefore be under heightened suspicion.

The measure is in the Senate now after passing the House 110-9.