Today the Senate, on a 38-8 vote, passed SB2135 which creates a commission during the 2017-2019 legislative interim to review the initiated measure process and determine if any changes need to be made with it.
The commission would be funded with a $25,000 appropriation and would be made up of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, the North Dakota Newspaper Association, North Dakota United (the combed teacher/public worker associations), as well as someone appointed by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, three lawmakers, a tribal representative appointed by the state Indian Affairs Commissioner, and three citizens appointed by the Governor.
“This study is meant to preserve self governance,” Senator Scott Meyer (R-Grand Forks), the bill carrier, said in communicating his committee’s 5-0 “do pass” recommendation.
State Senator Tim Mathern (D-Fargo) disagreed with Meyer. “I suspect that this measure has a number of different intents,” he said, some listed in the bill and some “unlisted” which are aimed at taking “away the power of the people.”
Maybe, though, some of the power of the people to create complicated public policy through a ballot vote should be taken away. On the 2015 ballot we had multiple ballot measures made up of dozens of pages of legal language. The only things most voters knew about these measures was what they might have seen in advertising, and the relatively short ballot language.
I think complicated changes to our law are deserving of more scrutiny than that.
When I spoke about this issue recently on my radio show a caller wondered if we couldn’t formulate an initiated measure process whereby voters answered broad policy questions (i.e. “should medical marijuana be legal?”) and then leave it to the lawmakers to implement policy based on the answers voters give.
That sounds like something worthy of more discussion – remember that people who wrote the medical marijuana measure forgot to put in it decriminalization of medical marijuana – which is why I’m glad this bill passed. The initiated measure process in North Dakota is desperately in need of reform.