Senate Approves Petition Reform Requiring Big-Impact Constitutional Measures Be Decided On November Ballot

The North Dakota Senate this morning approved HCR3011, which reforms the initiated measure process for constitutional measures by requiring that measures with an impact of more than $40 million (indexed to inflation) be voted on in the November election as opposed to the June primary.

The measure would also prohibit circulation of any petition directing the legislature to make a specific appropriation. Here’s the bill carrier Senator David Hogue speaking on the floor of the Senate saying that Measure 2 to abolish property taxes, which was voted on the June ballot in 2012, was the motivation for this legislation (view the full debate here).

These seem like appropriate reforms to me. Major policy changes should get maximum scrutiny from voters, so a shift to the November ballot is sensible.

It’s also sensible to prohibit putting appropriations into the constitution at the ballot box. That’s not quite as radical a change as it seems. If passed, the resolution would still allow citizens to initiate constitutional measures creating something like a conservation fund, they could just couldn’t direct the legislature to make a specific appropriation in the constitution.

Citizens could, still, circulate a measure to initiate statute to direct an appropriation.

We elect our legislators to govern, and part of governing is handling the state’s finances. Enshrining on-going appropriations in the state constitution is poor public policy whether it originates with legislators or with the people.

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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