Proposals for Legislature’s Initiated Measure Committee Include Banning Out of State Money, Giving Lawmakers/Governor Veto Power

Geraldine Christensen, left, and BJ Gorder, right, sign petitions to keep the Sioux nickname for the University of North Dakota athletics with Eunice Davidson, of Devils Lake, N.D., and a volunteer from Spirit Lake Tribe on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in West Acres Mall in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

During their 2017 session earlier this year lawmakers convened an interim committee to review North Dakota’s initiated measure process. Tomorrow the committee will be meeting and considering on their agenda is consideration of possible recommendations they might make to the full Legislature for reform.

A friendly source shared with me the proposals ahead of time, and there are some interesting ones. You can read the full summary of them below, sent to committee members by a Legislative Council attorney, but here’s a summary:

  • Stop any ballot measure with unfunded mandates (meaning it does things that cost the state money without providing revenue for them) from going into effect until after lawmakers get a chance to appropriate funds for it. The idea comes from the State of Maine which has that provision in their state constitution.
  • Require measures which make multiple changes to the state constitution to be approved by way of separate votes. Montana has this provision, which I pointed out in a post recently, and it was used this year as the basis to strike down that state’s iteration of Marsy’s Law.
  • Require a Code Revisor review of proposed ballot language before it is approved for circulation. Remember that the medical marijuana measure approved by voters last year was so poorly written that it didn’t actually decriminalize medical marijuana.
  • Require committees sponsoring ballot measures to include a way through which the measure would be paid for.
  • Require approval by the legislature and governor for any constitutional amendment approved by voters which spends above a certain amount of money.
  • Allow the legislature to amend, with a 2/3’s majority vote, any constitutional amendment spending more than a certain amount of money.
  • Ban out of state contributions to initiated measure campaigns, similar to a proposal in South Dakota.

I’m not sure that last proposal is a good idea, or even constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has held (rightly, I think) that political spending is political speech. Can the State of North Dakota lawfully restrict political speech on ballot measures simply because it comes from people in other states?

I’m not so sure we can. I don’t think we want to.

As for the rest, I think they’re decent proposals. I like the idea of limiting any given measure to just one change of the law. I think additional review of the language of proposed ballot measures is desperately needed. I also like the idea of requiring that ballot measures get additional approval from lawmakers.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not a fan of the initiated measure process. Legislating complicated issues at the ballot box is a spectacularly poor way to make public policy. Direct democracy fetishists disagree, but they’re wrong.

Unfortunately, most people agree with them. So if we’re going to have the initiated measure process, these reforms seem to be headed in the right direction.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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