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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published February 10 2010

Initiative requires reading of bills

BISMARCK – A proposed ballot initiative would require North Dakota lawmakers to swear they have read and understood any bill they intend to support, and attest that they haven’t been influenced by bribes or vote trading.

The measure, proposed by Jerrol LeBaron of California, also would delay a final vote on any bill in the North Dakota Legislature until it had been posted on the Internet for at least four days.

North Dakota is the first state where LeBaron is attempting to put the issue on the ballot. He said he picked North Dakota because its petition deadlines provide enough time to gather the required signatures this year.

“North Dakota actually has a wonderful opportunity here ... for the legislators to brag about the fact that it is the most transparent, most accountable, and most responsible state in the nation,” he said.

LeBaron, who lives in Tajunga in Los Angeles County, has been traveling to North Dakota for the past two weeks attempting to recruit sponsors for the measure, which he hopes will be put on the November ballot.

A North Dakota initiative must have at least 25 sponsors who are eligible to vote in the state. LeBaron said he was close to having the number of sponsors he needs.

His proposal is a constitutional amendment, which would require signatures from at least 25,688 North Dakota voters to put it to a statewide vote. To qualify for the November election, the needed signatures would have to be turned in to Secretary of State Al Jaeger by Aug. 4.

The amendment says the North Dakota House and Senate may not vote on any legislation until after its final text has been available for public viewing on the Internet for at least four business days. Any amendments to the measure would require the waiting period to begin anew.

It says any legislator who votes for a bill or resolution must sign two sworn statements, the first attesting that he or she has read the bill and understands it, and the second promising that his or her vote has not been influenced by a bribe or vote trading. A bill’s opponent would have to sign only the no-improper-influence pledge.

A lawmaker who falsely signed either affidavit could be prosecuted for perjury, the measure says. A perjury conviction in North Dakota carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said he did not believe the measure was necessary.

The text of bills and amendments in the North Dakota Legislature are already available on the Internet, as are the schedules of committee hearings where bills are examined in detail, Carlson said.

The Legislature’s rules require that every bill and resolution get a hearing and a vote in the chamber in which it was first introduced, unless the proposal is withdrawn.

“I think we have a very open, transparent system of government,” Carlson said. “This is a good idea for California, but it’s a screwy idea for here.”

LeBaron’s proposal has similar goals to other initiatives that have been launched to encourage Congress to make copies of federal legislation available on the Internet long before any votes are taken.

Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., has introduced a resolution to require the House to make copies of bills and conference committee reports available on the Internet at least three days before the House begins debating them. Supporters of the measure are attempting to force a floor vote on Baird’s proposal.

One organization, called Let Freedom Ring, has asked members of Congress to sign a pledge saying they will not support health care overhaul legislation unless they have personally read it, and it has been available for the public to read for at least three days.

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