On Fourth Try, North Dakota House Finally Approves Anti-Smoking Agency Budget

Yesterday the House killed the budget for North Dakota’s anti-tobacco agency for the third time, but today yet another reconsideration won a majority. After House Majority Leader Al Carlson reportedly told his caucus that he expected a majority vote for it today, it passed on a 68 to 23 vote.

According to the North Dakota CAFR, in fiscal year 2012 the state received more than $32 million in revenues from the tobacco settlement class action lawsuit. On top of that, for the coming biennium, the legislature has now approved $15.8 million in appropriations.

And to be clear, the anti-tobacco agency isn’t spending all the money they have now. They’re currently sitting on roughly $20 million in reserves, and they’ve told legislative committees that they hope to build those reserves up to $40 million.

All to harass North Dakota citizens into stopping a habit that, while disagreeable in the eyes of many, is perfectly legal. Ridiculous.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson told his caucus in a floor speech that they couldn’t end the session without a budget for the agency which was created by a vote on an initiated measure in 2008. That prompted an interesting response from Rep. Bob Skarphol (R-Tioga) who said that in 1980 the legislature had killed a law created by the initiated measure process.

In response, Rep. Carlson indicated that if Skarphol felt he had the 2/3’s majority vote to dissolve the anti-tobacco agency he was welcome to it.

Here’s video of the exchange.

It’s worth noting that in the next legislative session, convening in 2015, we will be beyond the seven-year period during which the legislature can only change law created through initiated measure with a 2/3’s majority. In three consecutive sessions now the legislature has demonstrated that they don’t like this agency, though they’ve not been able to find a 2/3’s majority to do away with it.

But in 2015 a simple majority will do the trick. The anti-tobacco folks may have won this battle, but will they lose the war next session?

Let’s hope so.

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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