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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published July 24 2013

Petition aims to help protect citizen-initiated measures in ND

BISMARCK – A Bismarck man wants to amend the state constitution so lawmakers can’t infringe on the ability of North Dakotans to petition to put an issue up for a statewide vote.

Dustin Gawrylow, assistant publisher of the Bismarck-based Great Plains Examiner, is working on an initiated measure that would keep the Legislature from altering the initiated measure process, as it is attempting to do.

“The initiated measure process should only be changed through the initiated measure process,” he said, arguing that only North Dakota residents should be able to change it.

If his petition drive is successful, a constitutional amendment will be placed on the 2014 statewide ballot.

Gawrylow said his measure is in response to the two measures state lawmakers put on the 2014 primary and general election ballots. Those measures, if passed, will make it more difficult to collect signatures and will undermine residents’ ability to affect state policy, he said.

Gawrylow, 30, kicked off his campaign last week by sending a letter to 800 North Dakotans asking if they will sponsor the petition and support the measure.

Once the measure has 25 sponsors, Gawrylow will submit his request for a petition to the secretary of state, who will formalize a petition title and eventually approve it for circulation.

The first measure up for a vote in June asks voters to change the deadline for submitting petition signatures. Currently, a sponsoring committee must submit its petitions 90 days before the election in which the measure will be put to a vote. The measure would move that date to 120 days before the election.

Gawrylow said that’s a major problem, because signature gatherers wouldn’t be able to use the North Dakota State Fair to collect signatures to put a measure on the November ballot. He said the fair in Minot is where committees have obtained as much as 25 percent of their signatures.

The second measure proposed by the Legislature would prohibit citizen-initiated measures that force lawmakers to spend state money for a specific purpose.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, proposed the resolution to provide “good business management of the state’s resources.”

“People have every opportunity to bring their measures forward,” he said. “But when they have a large fiscal effect on the treasury, that should be in some way carefully handled.”