As a member appointed to the Initiated and Referred Measures Study Commission, one of the issues being debated is the lack of access to legal council for petitioners in North Dakota. I propose an idea to require a petitioner to have legislative input into the process.
The proposal would require a petitioner to bring their idea to a sponsoring legislator, gaining access to the Legislative Council which is the body charged with providing legal advice to the legislature. The LC would draft the language consistent in format and placement in the century code, to not conflict with other portions of the law and to achieve the intent of the petitioner. Once completed, the sponsoring legislator would provide the draft language to the requesting party for submission to the Secretary of State where the process to gather signatures on a petition would begin.
Once the petition is completed and approved by the Secretary of State, the measure would be introduced to the legislature as a bill with strict requirements that the legislature may not amend the bill and must act on the bill in committee with a vote in at least one chamber. This would ensure a public debate on the bill’s merits.
Should the bill become law upon passage and singing by the Governor, the petitioners would have achieved their purpose. It would save everyone time, money invested in a campaign and ballot clutter.
Should the bill fail, the petitioners would have the option of putting the same language on the ballot at the following scheduled general election. While this process would extend the time frame for an issue to make the ballot, the benefits far outweigh the negative. Petitioners would have accurate language prepared by council and vetted by the legislature, the experience of knowing the opposing arguments, the time to organize and prepare a campaign and the ability to raise money. By election day, the voters should be better prepared to make their decision.
On first glance, this proposal itself would require a constitutional amendment with a vote of the people. It would not change the role of the Secretary of State or Attorney General nor add a layer of bureaucracy. It would retain the purpose of Legislative Council, it would restrict the legislature from amending and it could save time, money and voter confusion.
The Commission as well as the public will have the opportunity to debate this and other proposals in at least two more meetings before final recommendations are made.