Measures On The Ballot This Tuesday

BISMARCK – Absent the abundance of publicity surrounding high profile political races, it’s easy to be caught off guard in the voting booth when coming upon the Measures Ballot. For the committed proponents and opponents of the measures, it’s a challenge to overcome all the noise, clutter, information and misinformation in the communications channels in order to assist voters in making informed decisions on the ballot measures.  This bird’s eye view may provide a helpful overview.

On the Tuesday, November 8th election ballot there are five measures on the ballot.  Two of the measures advanced and approved by the State Legislature propose to amend North Dakota’s Constitution.  The remaining three measures are initiated measures proposed by the various measures’ sponsoring committees and petition signers.

Constitutional Measure #1:
In simple language, Constitutional Measure #1 would require a legislator to live in the legislative district he or she represents for the full four-year term of office in order to remain qualified to represent that district. Currently, Article IV, Section 5 of the North Dakota Constitution presents only two requirements for state legislators. First, be an eligible voter in the district the legislator represents and, second, be a resident of North Dakota for at least one year immediately prior to his or her service in the Legislature. The Constitution is silent regarding a legislator’s qualification to serve if a legislator relocates to a different legislative district, State or country during his or her term of office. If approved, this constitutional amendment would prohibit a legislator from representing the district from which elected or appointed if he or she is no longer a resident. In the event a legislator is no longer eligible to complete his or her term of office, other provisions of law provide a process for filling the vacancy for the remaining term of office.

A “Yes” vote means you support the additional four-year residency requirement.  A “No” vote means you oppose the additional requirement.

Constitutional Measure #2:
In short, the proposed language in Constitutional Measure #2 expands the educational purposes for which the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund may be used. Currently the language in Article X, Section 24 of the State Constitution requires twenty percent of the revenue from oil extraction taxes from taxable oil products be equally divided between the Common Schools Trust Fund and the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund. Interest from the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund must be transferred to the State’s General Fund on July 1st of each year. The principal in the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund could only be accessed by the Governor to offset Foundation Aid reductions due to a revenue shortage.

The proposed language in the amendment continues to equally distribute the same amount of money to the Common Schools Trust Fund and Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund.  The difference is the language for making the calculation.  The language is simplified by calling for two 10 percent distributions to the two funds rather than calling for 50% divisions of 20%.  In that respect, the measure is revenue neutral.

Most importantly, the measure’s new feature grants the Legislature the power to appropriate or transfer any excess principal balance for other education-related purposes. The trigger for legislative authority to access the funds is, “Whenever the principal balance in the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund exceeds fifteen percent of the General Fund appropriation for state aid to school districts, for the most recently completed biennium.”

If Constitutional Measure #2 is approved by the voters, the amendment in combination with Senate Bill 2039, also approved in the 2015 Legislature, would transfer $250 million to a new school construction assistance loan fund and $200 million to a new public employee retirement stabilization fund from the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund.  The Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund would be reduced by $450 million and the newly created special funds would be increased by $450 million.

A “Yes” vote means you approve the proposed changes.  A “No” vote means you oppose the proposed changes.

Initiated Constitutional Measure #3:
If approved, this initiated measure would create a new section in Article I of the State’s Constitution.  The proposed amendment most commonly known as “Marsy’s Law” expands victim’s rights subsequent to a crime and embeds those rights in the State’s Constitution. The ballot language does a good job itemizing the crime victim’s rights contained in the proposed measure.  While many of the crime victim’s rights currently exist in North Dakota’s Constitution and statutes, the measure’s proponents claim the statutory rights of the victims of crime are short changed when weighed against the constitutional rights of accused criminals. They argue this measure, if approved, rectifies the claimed imbalance.

A partial short list of expanded crime victims’ rights include providing a right to restitution from an offender for losses suffered during the commission of a criminal act; provide written notice if the accused is released or escapes; the right to be heard in court proceedings, provide information regarding the impact of an offender’s actions and prevent the disclosure of certain confidential information about the victim.

The measure’s opponents claim the current Constitutional and statutory guarantees are more than strong and point to North Dakota’s national leadership position regarding victim’s rights.  The opponents also claim that Constitutional Measure #3 would increase costs and reduce the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

A “Yes” vote means you support the existing and expanded crime rights and further support their placement in the State’s Constitution.  A “No” vote means you oppose expanding crime victim’s rights and their placement in the State’s Constitution.

Initiated Statutory Measure #4:
This proposed measure establishes a new veteran’s tobacco trust fund in Chapter 37 Section 14 of the North Dakota Century Code. The tobacco trust fund would be funded by increasing the excise tax on cigarettes from 44 cents per package to $2.20 for a pack of 20 cigarettes.  The excise tax on cigars increases from 28% to 56% of the wholesale purchase price.

The excise tax on all other tobacco products would be similarly increased as well as create an inventory tax on cigarette and tobacco products. The measure also includes provisions relating to e-cigarettes, similar devices, liquid nicotine and other tobacco products.  Additionally, the measure would also repeal the excise tax exemption on tobacco products given to residents of the State’s veterans home and state hospital.  The revenue generated by Measure #4 would be divided between the State’s General Fund, the veterans’ tobacco trust fund and the community health trust fund.

The measure’s proponents argue that in States where tobacco taxes have been increased there has been a decline in smoking rates and tobacco related health care costs.

Opponents claim a 400% tax increase is unjustifiable and further contend the measure does not provide sufficient over site for the expenditure of the collected tax revenue.

A “Yes” vote means you support the tax increases and distribution of the tax proceeds.  A “No” vote means you oppose the tax increases and distribution of the tax proceeds.

Initiated Statutory Measure #5:
Measure #5 would allow the medical use of marijuana for specific medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma and epilepsy.  If approved, a new chapter to Title 19 would be added to the North Dakota Century Code.  The Department of Health would administer every phase of the program.  The measure sets forth the medical marijuana program’s terms and conditions including identification cards and certificates of registration for patients, caregivers and qualified facilities.

There are provisions for monitoring, cultivating and growing marijuana.

An approved patient may be periodically dispensed up to three ounces of marijuana or could grow marijuana if his or her home is located more than 40 miles from an approved dispensary. Remedies for violations include requiring corrective action, suspension, revocation and criminal prosecution. An appeals and hearing process is available to the accused.  The Department of Health is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature containing certain statistical information.

The measures proponents believe medical marijuana is viable, safe alternative medicine for the conditions identified in the measure as well providing relief from the side effects of some prescription drugs. Opponents contend that even though medical research supports many of proponents’ claims, the measure itself is flawed because it does not adequately understand, or anticipate the problems, burdens and costs of administrating and enforcing an alternative medicine program.

A “Yes” vote means you support the establishment of a medical marijuana program. A “No” vote means you oppose the establishment of a medical marijuana program.

[Filed by Jim Kusler]

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