In North Dakota citizens are allowed to legislate directly through the initiated measure process per Article III of the state constitution. Statues and constitutional amendments can be put on the ballot by collecting a certain number of signatures, and if voters approve them they become law.
The legislature cannot change the law for seven years after a measure is passed, except through a 2/3’s vote.
The thing is, legislators really don’t like the initiated measure process. They see legislating as their turf. And, frankly, there is good cause to be suspicious of this sort of direct democracy.
To that end, there are a number of changes to the initiated measure process this legislative session. I wrote a post summarizing the various proposals last month. One of the proposals, SCR4006 introduced by Senator David Hogue (R-Minot), was debated and passed in the Senate today:
“You cannot budget at the ballot box,” argued Senator Hogue. “You cannot make sound fiscal decisions…at the ballot box.” Given recent history, I’m not certain we’re making sound fiscal decisions in the legislature either, but I digress.
I’ll admit, as someone who has backed several initiated measure efforts in the past, that I’m not entirely comfortable with how easy it is to change the law through this sort of direct democracy. I think the process could use some changes.
But Senator Hogue’s resolution, which would allow the legislature to reject a measure with a more than $50 million fiscal impact with 60% of the vote, is unnecessary. The state constitution already gives the legislature the authority to reject a measure with a 2/3’s vote. If a measure voted on by the people is truly bad policy, then it should have no problems garnering that much of the vote. We can argue about whether or not we elect, to the legislature, the sort of leaders willing to stand up to popular opinion in that way, but that’s a topic for another post.
The point is, we already have a check on the initiated measure process, and I really don’t see where Senator Hogue’s bill improves on it, though Senator Kelly Armstrong made a valid point in pointing out that this amendment would have to be approved by the people. Would citizens vote to put more limits on their legislative powers?
SCR4006 passed on a 28 – 19 vote.