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AS IS SEE IT

Posted 10/18/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the Nov. 8 General Election ballot will provide North Dakotans with an opportunity to cast their votes for the U.S. President, as well as other national, state and local candidates, it will also give the state’s citizens the chance to decide the fate of five ballot issues ranging from simple “house cleaning” measures to allowing for medical use of marijuana and increasing the tax on tobacco products to fund a myriad of needs.
As I have done in the past, I’m going to use this week’s column, as well as next week’s, to do my best to explain these five measures and how I intend to vote.
This week, I will deal with the first three measures, which are changes to the state’s constitution. And then next week, I will deal with the measures dealing with legalizing the medical use of marijuana and the proposed increase in the state’s tobacco tax.
Measure No. 1: This is a constitutional measure created by the North Dakota Legislature that prohibits an individual from serving in the state’s legislative assembly unless that individual lives in the district from which he or she was elected.
At first look, this measure would only make sense. It is only logical that the person who is being elected to serve his or her constituents reside in the legislative district that they serve. For example, if a person wanted to represent District 39, our legislative district which encompasses McKenzie, Golden Valley, Billings, Slope, Bowman and Adams counties, one would assume that the person elected to serve those citizens would reside in that district.
But, consider a person who lives in a city, such as Bismarck, which has multiple legislative districts. This measure would prevent an elected state senator or representative from moving across town and still be able to serve their current term or to seek re-election in their former district.
While there are two sides to this issue, I believe that the state legislature understood the importance of having state senators and representatives residing within the same legislative districts as their constituents.
So, from my perspective, Measure No. 1 deserves a Yes vote.
Measure No. 2:  This is another constitutional measure created by the legislature that would amend the state’s constitution and require that 10 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenues be deposited in the Common School Trust Fund and 10 percent of the oil extraction tax revenue be deposited in the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund.
In essence, the measure would require 20 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenues go toward education. Currently, all of the oil tax funding now used for local education needs comes from oil production taxes, not the extraction tax.
So, in addition to the legislature tapping into the state’s production tax revenues for school funding, it now also wants to lock in extraction tax funds.
While no one can argue the value of protecting funding for our school districts, a couple of pieces of the measure’s language causes me concern.
First, if the principal balance of the Foundation Stabilization Fund exceeds 15 percent of the general fund appropriation for state aid to school districts, the legislative assembly may appropriate or transfer any excess principal balance with those funds being made available for education-related purposes.
Second, what constitutes education-related purposes is a very wide open area. Could these funds be used for other than K-12 educational expenses?
Third, this measure would in reality be dedicating more oil revenues to fund our school districts at a time when the state’s oil income is falling. And it would put the state’s educational system ahead of other state funding needs.
Like I said, no one will argue with the need to provide adequate funds for our K-12 school funding.
But making our school funding more reliant on oil revenues is not prudent. And by not clearly defining what would constituent education-related purposes raises a red flag that this may be an end run by the legislature to use our limited oil revenues for purposes the state’s voters may not like.
While Measure No. 2 is a toss-up issue, I’m voting No.
Measure No. 3: This is a citizens-initiated constitutional measure that would create a new section to the state’s constitution. Called Marsy’s Law, it would provide rights and protections for crime victims throughout the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Under the measure, crime victims would be afforded the right to be present at court proceedings relating to the release, plea, sentencing, and parole of the accused. In addition, crime victims would be entitled to be notified of any release or escape of the accused and have the right to refuse interviews and requests for information made by the accused or the accused’s attorney.
No one would argue that these rights are not reasonable. But one of my biggest concerns is that members of the judiciary and the state’s attorneys, both defense and prosecuting, are not supportive of this measure. And if the professionals in the legal field have issues with the measure, then I’m less likely to be supportive of the measure no matter how noble it may be.
Second, as an initiated constitutional measure, if there are issues with Measure No. 3 that need to be corrected, the hands of the legislature are severely limited.
For these reasons, I will be voting No on Measure No. 3.