Resolution Requiring That Lawmakers Live In Their Districts May Get Death By Study

Way back in 2013 I broke a story about a number of lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – not living in their districts any more. The impact of that news (I’m told that there are a lot of current lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have this residency problem) has now manifested itself in the form of SCR4010 which has the backing of Democrat and Republican leadership in the House and Senate and was approved in the state Senate unanimously last month.

We’ll call it the Rep. Corey Mock Act, after the Grand Forks Democrat who likes to lecture his colleagues about ethics but moved out of his legislative district more than a year ago.

In the amended form now before the House the constitutional resolution – which would need to be approved by the voters before becoming law – would require that lawmakers be residents of their districts for the entirety of terms in office. It would also require the House and Senate chambers to establish rules for verifying the residency of its members during their terms.

It’s good legislation (though I’m concerned about lawmakers displaced outside of their districts because of, say, a natural disaster like flooding). But now there appears to be an effort afoot to spike this legislation in the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.

“[A]n amendment expected to turn the proposal into a study may change the direction of the resolution,” Bismarck Tribune reporter Nick Smith writes. I spoke to Rep. Scott Louser, who is on the House GVA committee, this morning who told me that the resolution hasn’t been turned into a study yet. They have a subcommittee reviewing it yet, and they’re hung up on the user of the term “qualified elector” in the legislation.

…someone has proposed a “death by study” for this resolution.

But that sounds suspiciously to me like someone trying to muddy the waters around the resolution. In other words, someone is trying the old “death by study” ruse.

That’s unfortunate, especially for a Legislature that is historically pretty hostile to transparency for their campaign fundraising and earlier this session couldn’t even muster the gumption to outlaw the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

If SCR4010 is killed, in the next election cycle our lawmakers could raise a bunch of money and spend it on buying a new car without the public being aware, and then pack up for a move to Florida from which they would “represent” their North Dakota districts.

Of course, I doubt most of our lawmakers would do any of those things, but that’s all the more reason why hostility to increased campaign finance transparency and reasonable proposals like SCR4010 is so absurd.

It’s not at all unreasonable to expect lawmakers to live in their districts during the entirety of their terms, with an exception for exigent circumstances such as a natural disaster (which is an amendment that ought to be made to the resolution).

On a related note, these questions of residency qualifications for voting and holding office would be one heck of a lot easier if North Dakota would just go to voter registration already.

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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