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Janell Cole, Published April 09 2009

North Dakota House tweaks tobacco measure

BISMARCK – Backers of last year’s successful tobacco control initiated measure say the state House is defying the will of voters by deleting part of the program passed in the November election.

House members, insisting they’re improving what voters approved, voted 57-34 along party lines Wednesday to amend Senate Bill 2063.

The bill enacts into state law the dictates in Measure 3, which 54 percent of voters approved and which called for $18 million in 2009-11 for programs to cut down on smoking.

The funds come from a national tobacco settlement the state participated in 11 years ago.

Measure 3 backers said the House amendments gutted the bill.

“This is a travesty,” said Dr. Jim Hughes of Bismarck shortly before the House voted.

“This is not what the voters voted for,” said former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.

The House amendments eliminate a tobacco program governing committee called for in the initiated measure and will end the program in eight years. The program will be managed by the state Health Department instead of the committee.

Changes aren’t final unless the Senate accepts the same amendments.

The amendments are controversial not just because they change the measure, but because the state constitution restricts what lawmakers can do with laws enacted by voters via initiated measures. The Legislature can’t repeal or change initiated laws for seven years unless both houses approve by two-thirds margins. But the House didn’t need a two-thirds vote to amend the bill, only to pass the final bill.

Supporters of the amendments include Rep. Gary Kreidt, R-New Salem, who said during Wednesday’s debate that the changes make the bill “better than what the people asked for.” He sponsored the amendment that the House Appropriations Committee adopted Tuesday and sent to the full House.

Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, asked supporters of tobacco cessation and control programs to not be swayed by Measure 3 activists’ charges that the voters’ will is being disregarded. The amended bill still puts the same millions of dollars toward tobacco programs as the original bill, which called for $9.3 million per year.

“Don’t let anybody say to you that (this) isn’t serving that purpose,” he said. “This is actually more money.”

Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, opposed the amendments and argued for passage of the original bill as approved in the Senate in February on a 46-0 vote. He said contentions that voters didn’t know they were voting to set up a governing committee for the tobacco programs is misinformed and disrespects voters’ intentions.

“The people of North Dakota should be trusted,” he said. “We must trust them. They have spoken. And they have sent us a wake-up call.”

Kaldor said voters created and passed the measure because most of the national tobacco settlement funds have gone to schools and water development and not tobacco control and cessation.

Measure 3 called for setting up a state tobacco control committee appointed by the governor. It dictated that the Legislature appropriate for the committee an amount equal to what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is necessary to effectively cut tobacco use in the state.

Supporters of the measure and original bill said the amendments violate the voters’ intent by sending $4.1 million of the tobacco money to other programs at the state Health Department, such as cancer screening and emergency medical service grants.

Those defending the amendments said that money is better used for those programs than to pay for the expenses of the tobacco control committee called for in Measure 3. The House will vote on the amended bill today. I

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he has no idea how the Senate will respond to the House version of the bill.

Roll call vote

The question being the motion to adopt the amendments to Engrossed SB 2063, the roll was called and there were 57 yeas, 34 nays, 0 excused, 3 absent and not voting.

Yeas: Bellew; Belter; Berg; Boe; Boehning; Carlson; Clark; Dahl; Damschen; DeKrey; Delmore; Delzer; Dosch; Drovdal; Frantsvog; Froseth; Grande; Hatlestad; Hawken; Headland; Heller; Hofstad; Johnson, D.; Johnson, N.; Karls; Kasper; Kelsch, R.; Kempenich; Kingsbury; Klein; Klemin; Koppelman; Kreidt; Kretschmar; Meier, L.; Nathe; Nelson; Nottestad; Pietsch; Pollert; Porter; Ruby; Rust; Schatz; Skarphol; Sukut; Svedjan; Thoreson; Uglem; Vigesaa; Wald; Wall; Weiler; Weisz; Wieland; Wrangham; Speaker Monson

Nays: Amerman; Boucher; Conrad; Froelich; Glassheim; Griffin; Gruchalla; Hanson; Holman; Hunskor; Kaldor; Keiser; Kelsh, J.; Kelsh, S.; Kerzman; Kilichowski; Kroeber; Martinson; Metcalf; Meyer, S.; Mock; Mueller; Myxter; Onstad; Pinkerton; Potter; Schmidt; Schneider; Thorpe; Vig; Williams; Winrich; Wolf; Zaiser

Absent and not voting: Brandenburg; Conklin; Ekstrom

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net