So Jack Dalrymple didn’t veto the abortion bills. Well, that’s okay. In North Dakota, there’s another way to veto bad legislation. It’s called referral. It’s what we need to do now.
The Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, decided to put one measure, SCR 4009, on the ballot for us to vote on next year. I say, heck, let’s vote on all of them.
The referral has been used successfully in North Dakota many times over the years to kill legislation which the Legislature deemed appropriate, but the majority of the people did not. The most dramatic referral effort I can recall was when Kent French led a referral of the 1989 Legislature’s tax bills, and all 8 of them were defeated by popular vote in a special election in the fall of 1989.
North Dakota’s referral law is fairly straightforward. Petitions must be drawn up and presented to the Secretary of State almost immediately after the bills being referred are signed by the Governor, because the signatures, 2 per cent of the state’s 2010 population, which translates to 13,452, must be presented to Al Jaeger within 90 days of the date the bill was signed into law. By my calculations (keep in mind I am an English major), that would be June 24.
What happens then is that the implementation of the bills being referred is suspended until the people vote. Because none of these bills carried an emergency clause, making them effective immediately, they would not normally take effect until August 1 anyway. So by the process of referral, they would not become effective until they survive an election.
The referral law says that the bills will be voted on at the next regular election (which would be the 2014 June Primary Election) or at a special election called by the Governor. In 1989, Governor George Sinner called a special election for the fall of that year because these were the bills that would provide the money that would fund state government, and he felt the urgency of the matter warranted not waiting until the following year. The election, incidentally, led to one of the greatest headlines I’ve ever seen in a newspaper. It was a banner across the front page of the Grand Forks Herald and it read simply “No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No”
I’m not sure in this case we’d want to waste time and money on a special election, because the referral of these bills will mean that nothing changes in North Dakota, and that we are saving the state a whole bunch of money, at least temporarily, on lawyers to defend these bills in court. And if the people overturn them, which I think is likely, we will never have to spend any money on lawyers in court.
Gathering the signatures needed to refer these bills shouldn’t be much of a problem. I was at the protest rally at the Capitol in Bismarck Monday with a few hundred others, and there was a signup sheet going around. I assume there were lots of people signed up in Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot as well. And I assume they were at least as impassioned as those I saw here. If a thousand people get involved, we each only have to get 14 or 15 signatures. That’s pretty easy.
So, I’m hoping those who were involved in putting together those Monday rallies are already huddled somewhere making plans. I’d think there are plenty of lawyers who will volunteer their services to get the petitions drawn up. They’re going to need some money to get the petitions printed. I’ll try to find out today where we can send checks to.
I really hoped Jack Dalrymple would veto these bills. With the stroke of a pen, they’d have disappeared into the night with a lot of other nightmares we wish we didn’t have to experience. It would have been clean and easy. Now we’re going to go through a really, really ugly election. Deciding this issue, with an entire nation watching, and with the kind of money from outside sources available these days, is going to take a strong stomach. But it needs to be done. We need to show the rest of the nation, even the rest of the world, that we’re better than this. We just kind of made some mistakes on who we elected last fall, but we’re atoning for our sins here, so please give us a chance before declaring final judgement on North Dakota. We’ll get it right in the end. Sometimes it just takes us prairie folks a little longer than others.
So let’s get the signatures and file the petitions on time, and have a great Summer Solstice celebration. And then get to work on a campaign to make our referral a success.