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Published March 14 2013

Forum editorial: Reject ND anti-voter resolution

Lawmakers should say “no” to an attempt by their leaders to make it far more difficult for North Dakotans to refer laws and initiate measures via the ballot. A House resolution by Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, would put the question on the next general election ballot. The resolution passed the House. The Senate should reject it.

The hurdles favored by Carlson and

like-minded legislators suggest they realize they are doing things this session that very likely will be referred. If they can make it more difficult – nearly impossible, some analysts have concluded – to refer some of the work of the 2013 session, lawmakers will have further distanced themselves from the sentiments of the people they are supposed to represent.

For example:

• Should it pass, the deeply flawed so-called personhood bill begs for referral.

• If the Legislature reduces the state’s relatively modest oil tax, a referral is all but guaranteed.

• Given the about-face of a major farm organization on a broadly supported animal welfare bill, the legislation might fail. If it does, the Legislature will be fairly characterized as having broken a pledge to change the law, and an initiated measure to toughen penalties is certain.

• If the anti-property tax crowd is unsatisfied with the Legislature’s tax relief (almost a guarantee; they won’t be satisfied until there is no property tax), expect another measure to eliminate the tax.

• And since the Legislature routinely refuses to adopt meaningful, long-term conservation investments and environmental protections, an initiated measure to do so probably is being contemplated already.

The Carlson proposal would increase the number of signatures needed for a petition, and require at least 3 percent of signatures to come from at least half the state’s counties. That’s a nearly impossible standard, and Carlson knows it, which suggests he wants to hamstring the people’s long-standing right to use the ballot to challenge the Legislature.

The tradition of referral and initiative is jealously cherished by North Dakotans. They have not abused the privilege. Recent votes on measures confirm the voters’ wisdom prevails most of the time. Lawmakers should leave it alone. The system has worked well for generations. If they actually listened to what North Dakotans are saying and acted accordingly, lawmakers might not feel the need to chip away at a process that is designed to call them to account.

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