JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — No Man’s Life, Liberty Or Property Are Safe While The Legislature Is In Session

It was newspaper editor Gideon J. Tucker who wrote those words in 1866. A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but we’re all well-advised to keep an eye on what goes on over at the North Dakota Capitol this winter. I’ve got my eye on a couple of pieces of legislation, one bad and one good, and I expect there will be more that catch my attention, but let’s take a look at these two early bills.

SCR 4001

This Senate Concurrent Resolution has evoked great wailing and gnashing of teeth because it goes after the most sacred of sacred cows in North Dakota: initiated measures. It says that “if the voters of North Dakota approve a constitutional amendment in a statewide election,” it doesn’t count. It requires the amendment to be submitted to the two subsequent Legislative Assemblies for legislative approval before it becomes part of the North Dakota Constitution.

If this isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever seen come before the North Dakota Legislature, it’s right up there in the top two or three. Ever. But don’t panic.

This resolution calls for a constitutional amendment. It amends the North Dakota Constitution, which means the voters will have to decide if they want this to happen. So if it passes both houses of the Legislature, and the governor signs it, then it goes on the ballot in 2020.

It’s basically the same as if someone carried a petition to put this on the ballot. So I’m not worried about it passing the Legislature. This is the Legislature’s way of carrying a petition — it just needs a lot fewer signatures.

I’ve said for years that I’ll sign any petition to put measures on the ballot. If somebody feels strongly enough about something to go to all the work and trouble to write up a petition and find a bunch of sponsors and print it up and stand out in the cold and rain and heat and beg thousands of people to sign it so it can go on the ballot, well, heck, I’ll help with that. I might not vote for it, but I’ll sure put my name down so it can get voted on. I always love the look on the petition carrier’s face when I say, “I’ll sign your petition, but I won’t vote for it.”

Maybe I’m naïve, but I tend to trust the voters of North Dakota when it comes to ballot measures. Oh, I’ve been burned a few times, like two years ago when a skinny little hollow-eyed meth freak handed me the petition for Marsy’s Law in the parking lot at Cash Wise Foods, and I felt so sorry for her I just signed it, figuring the voters were smart enough not to pass THAT law. Wrong. (You can read more about that here if you want to.)

But generally, voters get it right. Even in 2018, when masses of voters turned out to elect almost all Republicans in North Dakota, those same voters passed the “ethics in government” measure, Measure 1. Well, there was that legalization of marijuana thing that should have passed, but still …

So let the Legislature put this stupid constitutional amendment on the ballot, and we’ll just vote it down in 2020.

It’s OK to raise a great hue and cry about it though — that calls attention to it, and starts the campaign against it. And we might be able to figure out how to use votes for it to help defeat some bad legislators in 2020. So those of you who are passionate about this kind of thing, keep up the drumbeat. It’s bad law, and we need to keep pointing that out.

But don’t worry if it passes. It’s just the Legislature’s way of doing an initiated measure. I wonder, though … If the voters “approve this constitutional amendment in a statewide election” in 2020, then does it have to come back to the 2021 and 2023 Legislative Assemblies for approval?

HB 1155  

Oh, and speaking of marijuana, let’s hear it for State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-District 46, and State Sen. Erin Oban, D-District 35, the prime House and Senate sponsors of House Bill 1155. That’s the measure makes marijuana possession “a noncriminal offense punishable by a fee of $200.” You get caught with pot, you just pay a $200 fine.

What Shannon and Erin (and their other five sponsors) are doing is making marijuana a household budget item.

You want to smoke pot? You go find some (Colorado road trip) and smoke it up, preferably in the privacy of your home, or late at night on a park bench in Custer Park. Just try not to get caught because it will still be against the law. It’s just not a criminal offense. No jail time or felony conviction on your record.

If you get busted, you just pay a $200 fee. No big deal. Just put a few hundred bucks in your budget each year for pot fines. Say, maybe $600, just to be safe, in case you get careless, or you need to help out a friend who’s been furloughed by a federal government shutdown and is a little short of cash.

Heck, pretty much everybody can find that much in their annual budget. If you can afford to buy pot at today’s ridiculously inflated prices (a friend told me), you can afford to stash a little bit away for the fines.

This is maybe the smartest legislation this session, making marijuana a personal, household budget item. It’s especially great for retired folks, who can tap their IRA for a little “fun money” and don’t have to worry about peeing in a cup or lying on a job application anymore.

See, all good ideas don’t have to come from “badass grandmas.” They can come from pretty, young, blonde ladies, too. Shannon and Erin, you rock!

And if it passes, I have a suggestion for next session, Erin and Shannon. You can streamline the process and take the pressure off our policemen and women by just allowing us to pay the $200 in advance, buying a “pot permit.”  We could just go in and get a $200 permit, and then if the cops drive by when you’re sitting on that park bench, just wave your permit and say, “It’s OK, Officer, I’ve paid my fee in advance. Go catch some bad guys.” Everybody wins.

One thought on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — No Man’s Life, Liberty Or Property Are Safe While The Legislature Is In Session”

  • John A Burke January 14, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    When I attended the U of Michigan in Ann Arbor 40 years ago, possession of small amounts of marijuana carried the same penalty as a parking ticket. I think that was a good law then and would be a good law now (but not as good as just making it legal).


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