Rick Olson: A Take On The Ballot Measures


It has long been my position that a representative democracy goes hand in glove with the legislative process, and oftentimes provides an important check-and-balance of the Legislature.

I would agree that in general, the people should allow the legislative process to proceed in the way it was intended. However, there are times that when either the Legislature fails to act on an important matter, or acts in a way that is not in the best interests of the people of North Dakota. In those instances, the authority of the people to bypass the Legislature and propose a constitutional amendment or a statutory change are both important tools.

I will temper that statement by saying that when placed in the hands of a group that is acting merely out of spite, sour grapes, or a group that is pursuing their own agenda ahead of the public good; then these stop being important tools and truly become a mockery of the democratic process. We are seeing this right now with the group that is spearheading Measure #5, as I will touch on later in this column.

Measure #1
A bipartisan majority of both houses of the Legislature proposed an amendment to the state constitution during the 2013 session. If adopted by the people of North Dakota, the amendment will merely state: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” A number of so-called “experts” fear that this amendment will interfere with such things as end-of-life care decisions, living wills and advance health care directives. The amendment is not self-executing. In other words, the amendment will not trump any statutory laws that are presently on the books related to this issue. All of the above will continue to be honored. I wholeheartedly suggest a YES vote on Measure #1.

Measure #2
This is the property tax transfer ban. This is one of those issues which attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. While I suspect that it will pass, because people love to vote in favor of banning taxes if given the opportunity to do so. However, I suggest a NO vote on Measure #2.

Measure #3
This is the measure that would change the present governance structure of higher education in North Dakota. The current Board of Higher Education would be replaced by a three-member commission of higher education, appointed by the governor. A number of administrators and educators from across the North Dakota higher education system have raised a red flag on this issue, because they say such things as the continued accreditation of the system could be in jeopardy if this passes. North Dakota’s higher education system is irretrievably broken, and voting YES on this measure will instill some much-needed accountability into the system. I suggest a YES vote on Measure #3.

Measure #4
This measure was placed on the ballot by the Legislature in 2013, and if adopted by the people in the general election, it would require that initiated measures estimated to have a significant fiscal impact be placed on the general election ballot and prohibit initiated constitutional amendments that would make a direct appropriation of public funds for a specific purpose. I guess my question here is would this amendment be a hindrance to the initiated measure process? Would the secretary of state be required under this proposed amendment to accept a measure for the ballot which is estimated to have a significant fiscal impact upon the state, which otherwise would not qualify for the ballot – such as for irregularities with the petition itself, signatures, etc.? I also disagree with groups which attempt to amend the constitution to make an end run around the Legislature, as I will explain about my thoughts on Measure #5. I suggest a NO vote on Measure #4.

Measure #5
This is the proposed amendment which would create a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Trust and a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Fund. As I have mentioned in the past, I am not in favor of legislating via the constitution. If this amendment passes, the Legislature will be constitutionally mandated for the next 25 years to fund the programs which are spelled out in the proposed amendment. Right now, North Dakota’s finances are strong. What happens when the oil boom in the Bakken goes bust? Only 30 years ago, North Dakota’s finances weren’t so great. There was a time when the state’s books barely balanced and there was no budget surplus. The North Dakota Constitution is intended to be the framework upon which the statutory laws in the Century Code are derived. The group which is pushing this measure should have instead proposed an initiated statutory measure. I suggest a NO vote on Measure #5.

Measure #6
This is the so-called parenting initiative. I must say that since I’m not a parent, that I have too much knowledge about this issue in general. One thing I have wondered about is that in many custody cases, the courts oftentimes side with the mother over the father. I understand that each case must stand on its own merits and I believe the courts must consider these cases on a case-by-case basis. Supporters of the measure have been unable to convince lawmakers to make significant changes pertaining to child custody laws in previous legislative sessions. I understand that it’s been years since this issue has been before voters. It appears to me that this measure really doesn’t go to the core of the issue, and I believe lawmakers really should step up to the plate during the 2015 legislative session to correct the inefficiencies and inequalities of the present law. Therefore, I suggest a NO vote on Measure #6.

Measure #7
This is the pharmacy ownership law initiative. Since 1963, North Dakota law has required that a pharmacy be at least majority owned by a licensed pharmacist in good standing. The law has created an artificial shield of protection for the independently-owned drug stores across the state. The law has largely kept large national retailers like Kmart, Target and Walgreens from operating a pharmacy within their respective stores in North Dakota. As a result, most North Dakotans aren’t able to access the national retailer’s much-advertised discounted prescription drug offers – except for people who live in the border communities like Fargo, who are able to drive across the river to Minnesota and avail themselves of the lower prices, or those who use the national retailers’ mail order services. Walgreens is the largest and oldest drug store company in America. The sole Walgreens drug store in North Dakota, which is located in Fargo, is the only one of that company’s stores in the entire country which does not offer a pharmacy. How ridiculous is that? I suggest a YES vote on Measure #7.

Measure #8
This is the initiated statutory measure which would require all school districts in North Dakota to start the school year after Labor Day. The “Keep it Local” crowd is busy, along with the North Dakota High School Activities Association in opposing this measure. I live across the river from Minnesota, where classes are statutorily mandated to begin after Labor Day. Many of the school districts begin things like football practice in the weeks prior to the start of school, and there are even some games played before school starts after Labor Day. The high school activities association argues that forcing all of the districts on to a common calendar would interfere with postseason tournaments. I don’t see it that way. The schedules could be changed. Also, we have seen instances where school districts have had to postpone classes in late August because the older school buildings without air conditioning got too hot. I suggest a YES vote on Measure #8.