Update: I received a message from a member of the legislature that informs me the bill sponsors of SCR 4015 requested that it be killed. My source speculates that the end goal of doing this is to get SCR 4001 passed. SCR 4001 proposes to amend the State Constitution so that any initiated constitutional measure passed by the people be submitted for approval to the Legislative Assembly. If both chambers approve the measure by a majority vote, it becomes law. If they fail to approve the measure, then it goes back to the people for a second vote and, if passed, becomes law. SCR 4001 has also been the subject of severe ridicule by opponents to any changes being made to the initiated process.
Update 2: The House did not get to vote on SCR 4015 today. It is on the calendar for a vote tomorrow (March 29th).
One of the most controversial subjects in North Dakota politics lately relates to a number of bills in the 2019 Legislative Session that propose changes to the way in which ballot measures are done. Make no mistake about it, the passion evoked as a result of the discussions in regards to these proposals is high. One of the bills drawing the most ire from those opposed to any changes to the process is Senate Concurrent Resolution 4015, which passed the Senate on a 34-12 vote earlier this month.
SCR 4015 proposes significant changes to the way in which amendments to our State Constitution are done. They can be summed up as follows:
- Doubles the signature requirement for initiated measures from 4% to 8%.
- Doubles the deadline for submission of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office from 120 days to 240 days.
- Raises the bar for voters to pass an amendment from 50%+1 to 60%.
- Raises the bar for the legislature to propose an amendment to the people from 50%+ 1 to 60% in both chambers.
As I’ve stated before on The Minuteman, the issue of initiated measures has been a difficult one for me over the years. I’m not a fan of direct democracy. But I recognize the fact that using the initiative process can be a means of the people having a check upon the government without throwing the baby out with the bath water.
To be honest, I do agree that a 50%+1 threshold to change the State Constitution is too low. When I look at what the Founders of our country did with the process of changing our U.S. Constitution, I’m grateful. I shudder at the idea of them having made it any easy. So, supporting that, I can’t logically be opposed to raising the bar for percentage of votes required to change our State Constitution.
Having said that, does doubling the signature requirement and submission deadline go a bit too far? I tend to think that it does. Anyone who has been involved in the initiative process knows that even the current system is a tall order— unless you have significant dollars behind your movement. And that’s where the trouble in all this stems from. Some folks feel it’s too easy for high dollar out-of-state do-gooders to come in and get their proposals on our ballots to change our State Constitution. There’s unquestionably truth to that argument. But at the end of the day, who votes on those measures? That’s right, the people. And it’s a risky thing telling the people you don’t trust them.
Today, the House will vote on SCR 4015. It came out of the Judiciary Committee with a 12-0 Do Not Pass recommendation. Rep. Rick Becker (R – District 7) is set to carry the bill to the floor this afternoon. I suspect that the resolution will be defeated. But if you’re concerned about it, now is the time to send that final e-mail or make that final phone call to your representative asking them to vote red.
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