House kills tobacco plan implementation
BISMARCK -- The Legislature's implementation of a voter-approved tobacco measure was thrown into question Thursday when the House killed a bill appropriating money for the programs.
The vote to kill Senate Bill 2063 was 69-24.
The Legislature must appropriate money to the tobacco control programs that voters OK'd in November when they passed Measure 3. Without the Legislature's appropriation, the programs can't be started. The money to be appropriated is already flowing into the state from the national tobacco settlement.
Nevertheless, backers of Measure 3 applauded Thursday's vote because they opposed amendments the House majority pushed through on their measure on Wednesday. They said the House defied the voters' wishes by putting the new tobacco programs in the state Health Department and by proposing to spend tobacco funds for other purposes.
Measure 3 as passed by 54 percent of the voters called for a special executive committee appointed by the governor to administer the money and the programs. The Senate passed SB 2063 in February exactly as the measure called for but House amendments abolished the committee.
"We're pleased with the outcome, absolutely," said Kathleen Mangskau, chairwoman of the committee, after the House vote to kill SB2063. "We want to thank the Legislature for rejecting the amendments and voting to save lives and save money."
She said Thursday's vote has "given us the opportunity to try and move forward with this."
Mangskau and other Measure 3 supporters raised a public outcry Wednesday about the House amendments. She believed the bill's overwhelming defeat Thursday means "a lot of legislators heard from their constituents" that they opposed the bill as amended.
Mangskau didn't seem worried about how the measure can be implemented following the defeat of SB 2063.
"The next step would be up to the Legislature," she said.
There are at least four possible ways for the Legislature to still implement Measure 3 in this session. The House could revive SB 2063 today by reconsidering its action and passing the amended bill. It could reconsider its action and send the bill back to committee for deliberations on new amendments or to strip the earlier amendments. The House or Senate could introduce a delayed bill to implement the measure or they could do it by tacking the necessary language onto another bill still moving through the session.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said Thursday, "I have no intention of putting in a delayed bill." But he also hinted that the House may reconsider its vote when it meets in floor session this morning. He said he would hold the bill at the House's front desk Thursday, an indication that it is ripe for reconsideration.
The only comment from Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, about the bill on Thursday was, "I think people are going to have to compromise."
Carlson had various explanations for why the Republican majority would work so passionately on Wednesday to amend the bill to its satisfaction and then overwhelmingly vote it down the next day. Most Democrats opposed the amendments and the amended bill.
"We were 100 percent behind it yesterday," Carlson acknowledged following Thursday's vote. He said Republican leadership sent no messages to its members urging the bill go down and it "was not even a topic" at the GOP caucus' weekly meeting Wednesday night. He said they did it to accommodate the Democratic-NPL minority's wishes and because Measure 3 supporters such as the North Dakota Farmers Union sent e-mails urging the bill be killed.
In Thursday's vote, all but two of the House's 36 Democrats voted against it. One, Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, was absent and the other, Rep. Mary Ekstrom, D-Fargo, had helped write the amendments. Thirty-five of the 58 Republicans also voted "no."
Republicans said during the debates both days that they favored amending the bill because creation of a special committee to administer the tobacco funds and programs is needless added bureaucracy when the state Health Department is already administering tobacco control money and programs. The voters who approved Measure 3 did not know they were setting up a new bureaucracy and would not have favored that, they argued.