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House advances measure to make changing North Dakota Constitution harder

If approved, the measure would go on the November 2024 general election ballot for voters to decide.

North Dakota Capitol
North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.
Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK โ€” North Dakota lawmakers are advancing restrictions to the process for citizens to amend the state constitution.

The state House of Representatives on Thursday passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 4013 by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, in a 73-18 vote.

The measure goes back to the Senate for concurrence on amendments. The Senate in February had passed the resolution, 44-3.

If the Senate approves of the House changes, the measure would go on the November 2024 general election ballot for voters to decide.

Myrdal has said the measure is to enhance "grassroots" efforts of citizen initiatives. She described North Dakota's constitution as standing "naked on Main Street," open to changes by out-of-state influences.

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The measure would limit citizen-initiated measures to one subject, "as determined by the secretary of state."

Myrdal's proposal would raise the signature threshold for ballot placement to 5% of the state's most recent federal decennial census, up from 4%. Only qualified North Dakota voters could circulate petitions for signatures.

Constitutional initiatives also would have to be approved at both the June primary and November general elections by majority votes.

The House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee removed the measure's proposed restrictions on petitioners, including a 120-day residency requirement and a payment/gift ban, and gave the resolution a 9-2 "do pass" recommendation.

The resolution passed with little discussion. Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, urged a no vote, saying the measure could appear on the ballot next to one that would water down the term limits voters approved last year.

"I don't think it's going to make anybody happy," he told the House.

North Dakota lawmakers in recent years have grumbled about certain constitutional initiatives voters have approved, including measures for a state Ethics Commission in 2018 and for term limits on the governor and state lawmakers last year.

Nearly 62% of voters in 2020 rejected a measure proposed by lawmakers that would have given the Legislature a say in passing constitutional initiatives.

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