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Published August 08 2010

Forum editorial: Nonsense cleared off ND ballot

There is good news and bad news regarding ballot measures on the November ballot in North Dakota. The good news is that several nonsensical proposals did not gather enough signatures for the ballot. The bad news is that one good measure won’t be on the ballot because its sponsors made a procedural mistake. The ballot, which could have had eight measures, will be shorter.

First the nonsense:

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban all property taxes in North Dakota fell some 4,000 names short of 25,688 signatures to get on the ballot. That’s good news for every thoughtful resident in the state. Had the measure gotten any headway, the threat to cities, counties, park districts and public schools would have been profound. The shortfall in revenues for basic local services would have to be made up somehow (state appropriations?), or everything from classroom books to snow removal would have to be cut.

The proposed amendment might still have life because its sponsors say they will persevere. But a bad idea will not get better with time.

An ill-conceived proposal to impose term limits on state officials and legislators also failed to get on the ballot. Not only do we have “term limits” in the form of elections, the turnover at the Legislature averages nearly a third of the members every two or three biennial sessions. North Dakota voters know when to toss out an elected official or when to keep one on for some time. Term limits insult their judgment.

Among the dumbest ideas to surface this season was a proposal (from out of state) to force lawmakers to read every bill top to bottom, and then read them again and again should a bill be amended. Not workable in a part-time Legislature that meets for less than 90 days every two years. Committees divide the work, and lawmakers depend on committees for bill information. It works well.

Better ideas:

The fiercely debated, long-simmering debate about whether to ban canned “hunting” in fenced game preserves will be on the ballot. This matter has been stewing for years, and the ballot measure will afford the discussion to continue and eventually be resolved.

Another long-debated issue – whether to allow pharmacies to operate that are not owned by pharmacists – should be on the ballot but won’t be because petition sponsors failed to include a list of sponsoring committee members with each of the petition sheets turned in. It’s a serious mistake that probably cannot be corrected. Too bad. North Dakotans should have a chance to vote on the drugstore issue because the 2009 Legislature killed a consumer-friendly bill that would have changed the state’s archaic pharmacy ownership law.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.