Death By Study For Legislation Requiring Lawmakers To Live In Districts

A “death by study” is a legislative maneuver that effectively kills a bill by turning it into something the Legislature will study as opposed to something that will become law. It’s a way for lawmakers to basically reject something without having necessarily be on the record voting against it.

In this instance, lawmakers don’t have to tell their constituents that they voted against a law requiring them to remain residents of their districts during their terms (or forfeit their seats). They can tell their constituents they voted for a study, see how that works?

The legislation in question was SCR4010 which was sponsored by all four members of the legislature’s leadership (the House and Senate majority and minority leaders). The changes proposed in the original resolution, which would have put a constitutional amendment before voters in the next election, were pretty simple:

4010

You’d think this would be a pretty straight-forward change to the law. As it stands currently, a lawmaker could get elected in a district in western North Dakota and then promptly, after election day, move to Minnesota for the four years of their term. And this sort of thing is happening.

Rep. Corey Mock, a member of the Democrat leadership in the House, is currently representing a Grand Forks district he doesn’t live in. Former Rep. Nancy Johnson spent the last year or so of her four year term in the House representing a Dickinson-area district from Fargo.

But the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office had some problems with the legislation. They said the problem is that “qualified elector” is defined in state law as someone living in a given district who is 18 years of age or older and has lived in that district for the last 30 days before election day. Basically, the same requirement to vote.

Where it gets tricky is applying that definition for the entirety of a legislative term. Which makes sense. In order for this change to the state constitution to make sense we need to tighten up the residency requirements. Frankly, we need voter registration, which is another issue the Legislature is studying.

Yet these concerns don’t seem to be enough of a reason to have killed SCR4010. They could have passed this change to the constitution, and then fixed the definition of “qualified elector.” Sending this resolution off to a study seems a bit too much like the lawmakers punting.

The resolution passed on a 90-1 vote with only Majority Leader Al Carlson voting against it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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