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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 06 2013

Resolution would increase signatures needed for ballot measure in North Dakota

BISMARCK – North Dakota voters could decide if they want to require more signatures and a more statewide approach when residents want to put issues up to statewide vote.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3011, which would require any citizen-initiated measure that would potentially cost more than $20 million, should it pass, to be placed on a general election ballot. Measures with less than a $20 million impact could still be put on a primary or general election ballot.

The number of signatures required to get an initiated measure on the ballot would increase from 2 percent of the resident population to equal at least 3 percent of the resident population and, in at least half the state’s counties, signature gatherers would need at least 3 percent of the county resident population. This would help ensure that the bulk of the signatures aren’t coming from just a few higher population counties.

For constitutional amendments, the threshold would remain at 4 percent but require 4 percent of signatures from half of the counties.

The bill would also prohibit an organization from paying petition circulators.

Scott Rising, with the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said the bill would prevent organizations and voters from being overburdened by people with different interests. It would create “a widespread effort versus a very focused, very narrow effort and sheer numbers game.”

“If we’re going to bring a measure for the entire state, it needs to be the entire state,” he said. “If you have to engage your neighbors from all corners of the state, you can say everybody paid attention to this.”

But the measure, like many others this session, has drawn some heat from North Dakotans, worried proposals like this would restrict their rights to petition by making it more difficult to take a law to a statewide vote.

Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, said she has received many emails from concerned constituents.

“People are still correct saying you are giving us another hoop to jump over and into beyond what was required,” she said.

Leon Mallberg, of Dickinson, expressed his concern over the resolution, worried it would infringe on the rights of residents.

He said the increase in the threshold is “unreasonable” given the fact that the Legislature can put issues on the statewide ballot with a simple majority – 48 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate.

“It’s a sacred right reserved to all with the will and determination to participate in the process of self-government when all else has seemed to fail,” he said. He added that it is used “when frustration drives the citizen to one of the last political options.”

Lawmakers also have taken up a resolution that would give the Legislature veto power over initiated measures that could be costly to the state. Proposed by Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, Senate Concurrent Resolution 4006 cleared the Senate in mid-February and will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

That resolution would allow the Legislature to reject a measure that has a $50 million fiscal impact to the state. The Legislature would need 40 percent approval from both House and Senate chambers to reject the measure. The state constitution already gives the Legislature the authority to reject a measure with a two-thirds vote.

The Legislature cannot amend the measure but would need to act on it before the 31st legislative day of the legislative session after the measure’s statewide approval. If the Legislature doesn’t act, it would become law immediately or on the date specified in the measure.

Higher ed decisions

Under another resolution, voters could appeal a formal decision made by the state Board of Higher Education with a statewide vote. Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3034, which puts a decision made by the board up for a vote through the normal initiated measure process that requires signatures from 2 percent of the state’s population.

Maragos told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday the state board is a constitutionally organized entity that crafts policy, “if they do something the people do not like, the people should have the right to put to the ballot the question of whether they approve or disapprove of (it).”

“No restrictions, whatever voters find egregious,” he said of what can be taken to a vote.

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