Senate Passes Resolution To Give Legislature Veto Over Some Initiated Measures


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.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • RCND

    This is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. The Initiated Measure process is far from perfect, but you will never achieve perfection either. But that is not a reason to remove this process from the people either, or to put into it such oversight requirements.

    His argument of defending the surplus also does not pass muster. The people’s money given through taxes is what built that surplus, and they have a right to do the hard work required to allow voters to decide how some of that surplus can be give back to them

  • The Whistler

    I don’t get the $50 million dollar threshold. Are they telling us that they are the adults and will handle the important things and let us fiddle around with the unimportant things.

    • Rob

      Watch the video.

      Senator Hogue says voters are qualified to answer simple things like animal cruelty laws and smoking bans. Not the really important stuff.

  • RandyBoBandy

    Just in case the old Measure Two debate comes back, the legislature can now overturn what the people want a little easier.

    • Rob

      You’ll note that, in the video, Measure 2 is specifically mentioned.

  • Camburn

    Rob: Vote tally on this please?

    • Rob

      It passed 28 – 19.

      Here’s the Senate Journal entry:

      YEAS: Andrist; Armstrong; Berry; Bowman; Burckhard; Campbell; Cook; Dever; Erbele;Grindberg; Hogue; Holmberg; Kilzer; Klein; Krebsbach; Laffen; Larsen; Lee, G.;Lee, J.; Luick; Lyson; Murphy; Oehlke; Schaible; Sorvaag; Unruh;Wanzek; Wardner

      NAYS: Anderson; Axness; Carlisle; Dotzenrod; Flakoll; Grabinger; Heckaman; Marcellais;Mathern; Miller; Nelson; O’Connell; Poolman; Robinson; Schneider;Sinner; Sitte;Triplett; Warner

  • Jeff

    Rob, I take direct offense to your statement above indicating how, “easy it is” to initiate a ballot measure in our state. If you do it the right way and gather the signatures yourself, it is one hell of a lot of work. I gathered over 3,700 signatures for a measure last year. There is nothing easy about this process.

  • charles tuttle

    Folks you all need to read the bill. The senate is misleading us all. The smoking band would be effected by this bill.”Of a the measure would dedicate public fund for a specific purpose or require”. so before the 50 million dollar inpact the public fund statement is the most important. In the smoking ban we are needing signs and public money will be spent. It’s all about control and they think the people are to stupid to think. Charles Tuttle