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North Dakota Senate firms up plans for constitutional amendment hurdles

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, speaks on the Senate floor on Thursday, April 11, as Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, listens. Hogue is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, which may bring an ethics bill to the Senate floor this week. By Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — North Dakota senators solidified plans for asking voters to make it harder to amend the state's constitution Monday, April 15.

The Senate gave final approval to a resolution that gives the Legislature input on constitutional amendments that voters propose by petition and approve at the ballot box. That question will be put to voters in 2020.

But the Senate also killed a House proposal seeking to require 55 percent of voters to approve initiated constitutional amendments. The House previously rejected a similar Senate resolution.

Monday's votes appeared to clear up this session's debate over whether and how to make it more difficult for voters to amend the state's constitution. Backers of the proposals argue the constitution is vulnerable to well-funded outside interests that could bankroll a measure campaign, but they have noted they weren't seeking to change the process for amending state law through the ballot box.

The resolution that's going to the 2020 ballot would require successful initiated constitutional amendments to be considered by the Legislature before being enacted. If lawmakers turn down the proposal, it would go back on the ballot and voters would have the opportunity to override the Legislature.

Critics have said the proposal could be seen as retribution for the recently approved ethics measure, but supporters said it would allow for a more deliberative process.

"This is an opportunity to let the people decide how they wish to govern themselves," said Minot Republican Sen. David Hogue, the chief sponsor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said lawmakers shouldn't seek to "impede the rights of the people."

Hogue's resolution passed in a 31-15 vote.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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