Measure study commission passes ND Legislature

BISMARCK - A bill creating a commission to study North Dakota's initiated and referred measure process is on its way to Gov. Doug Burgum after lawmakers approved it Monday, April 17.The commission

Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford
Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford
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BISMARCK - A bill creating a commission to study North Dakota's initiated and referred measure process is on its way to Gov. Doug Burgum after lawmakers approved it Monday, April 17.

The commission would study the process and cost of placing initiated and referred measures on the ballot and whether any state law or constitutional provision should be amended. It would also study whether to put limits on out-of-state funding of measures.

The bill's proponents have said they support the people's right to petition for new laws or constitutional amendments, but they argued tweaks should be examined.

Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, said the medical marijuana measure "had some problems that could have been addressed." Lawmakers rewrote the law passed by voters in November and approved a new medical marijuana bill last week.

The Senate passed the study commission bill Monday morning before the House did the same in the late afternoon in a 71-19 vote.


A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers debated the study commission's membership, ultimately arriving at a compromise that allows the majority leaders in the House and Senate to each appoint three members from their respective chambers, with one minority party member from the Senate. The governor would appoint seven citizen members, one of whom must be a "member of an association that represents employees and their interests."

The Greater North Dakota Chamber, the North Dakota Newspaper Association, the North Dakota Farm Bureau and the North Dakota Farmers Union would appoint one member each. The chief justice of the state Supreme Court would appoint the commission chairman, and the secretary of state would appoint a nonvoting member.

A previous version of the bill included slots for a tribal member and North Dakota United, the union representing public employees and teachers. Another version granted the minority party two seats instead of one.

Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, warned lawmakers to be careful before altering the measure process, which she said is the only direct way for citizens to enact policy without going through the Legislature.

"Given its current makeup, this commission doesn't seem like a citizens commission, but rather a commission appointed by those who already control the levers of power at the state Capitol," she said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, defended the bill and said "it's not legislation, it's a study." He said the conference committee worked to include a "cross section" of people from across the state.

"All of these people are going to be citizens," Kasper said.

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