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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published August 20 2010

Pharmacy measure won’t go on ballot

BISMARCK – Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Thursday that he will not put a voter initiative to repeal North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership restrictions on the November general election ballot.

Jaeger’s decision, which affirmed his original rejection of the ballot measure two weeks ago, opens the way for a possible legal challenge. North Dakota’s Constitution says disputes over initiative petitions may go directly to the state Supreme Court.

Any dispute will have to be settled quickly in order for voters to decide the issue Nov. 2. Jaeger faces a Sept. 8 deadline for certifying a final copy of the ballot.

Tammy Ibach, a Bis-marck spokeswoman for the measure’s supporters, said Thursday that they were evaluating their options. She called Jaeger’s decision disappointing.

The measure has been promoted as a way to give North Dakotans broader access to less costly prescription drugs. It would repeal a state law that says the controlling ownership of most North Dakota pharmacies must be in the hands of registered pharmacists.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and other large retailers say the repeal is needed for them to operate company pharmacies within their own North Dakota stores.

The initiative’s supporters collected signatures to put the issue to a statewide vote after the North Dakota House defeated repeal legislation last year. On Aug. 4, Ibach and other initiative advocates turned in petitions that they said had 12,905 signatures, 61 more than the minimum needed to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot.

Jaeger threw out the petitions the following day because they lacked a list of the measure’s 25 sponsors.

The constitution says if North Dakota’s secretary of state decides that a petition isn’t proper, its supporters have 20 days to attempt to make it right. Bismarck doctor Eric Thompson, the chairman of the initiative campaign, appealed to Jaeger to reverse himself in a letter earlier this week, calling the lack of a sponsor list “a minor compliance issue.”

Jaeger was not persuaded, saying that both the North Dakota Constitution and state law backed his position.

The constitution refers to the secretary of state’s role in approving a petition for circulation if it is in proper form “and contains the names and addresses of the sponsors and the full text of the measure,” Jaeger’s letter said. State law requires that initiative petitions be circulated “in their entirety,” he noted.

“Since the petitions did not include the names and addresses of the sponsors and were not circulated in their entirety, I have no choice but to stand by my earlier determination that the submitted petitions were insufficient,” Jaeger wrote.

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