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Posted 9/08/10 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

North Dakotans will not get a chance during this fall’s General Election to vote on an initiated measure that proposed changing the state’s restrictions on the state’s pharmacy ownership law to allow large box stores (ie. Walmart, Target and Walgreens) to sell prescriptions. That is unless the North Dakota Supreme Court overturns Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s decision to keep the measure off the ballot.
At the heart of the controversy is Jaeger’s ruling that although the initiative’s supporters had collected enough signatures to put the issue on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, they failed to include the list of the 25 sponsors of the initiative, when they were collecting signatures.
Supporters of the initiative say that their failing to include that list of sponsors as part of the signature gathering process “a minor compliance issue.”
But in tossing out the initiated measure Jaeger noted that state law requires that initiated petitions must not only have the full text of the measure when they are circulated for signatures, but must also contain the names and addresses of the sponsors. And Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota Attorney General, who will be presenting the state’s case before the Supreme Court, says that Jaeger was right in rejecting the petitions.
Whether you support or oppose a change to the state’s pharmacy laws, you have to respect Jaeger’s decision to stick to state law when it comes to petitions either being circulated correctly or incorrectly and Stenehjem’s readiness to defend that decision before the Supreme Court.
The right of the citizens of North Dakota to either create or change state law through the initiated process and the ability to overturn the actions of the state legislative via the referendum process are very precious privileges. And to ensure that the initiated and referendum process are held to the highest ethical standards, sponsors of these processes need to follow explicit rules.
And that is apparently where the sponsors of the initiated measure to overturn the state’s pharmacy law fell short. Whether by oversight or by design, they didn’t include the names and addresses of the sponsors who were pushing for the change.
The question right now isn’t do we want box stores to be able to sell prescription drugs, but rather was the process to put the initiated measure on the ballot followed correctly.
In their interpretation of state law, Jaeger and Stenehjem say that the petitions circulated failed to meet state requirements. It would only make sense that the State Supreme Court would also reach the same decision.
After all, right is right and wrong is wrong.