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Published April 12, 2009, 12:00 AM

North Dakota tobacco bill’s future uncertain

BISMARCK – Legislation to enact last year’s voter-approved tobacco control measure is remaining up in the air this weekend – or longer – with both sides of the dispute insisting they own the best plan to use millions of dollars to eliminate tobacco use in the state.

By: Janell Cole, INFORUM

BISMARCK – Legislation to enact last year’s voter-approved tobacco control measure is remaining up in the air this weekend – or longer – with both sides of the dispute insisting they own the best plan to use millions of dollars to eliminate tobacco use in the state.

The House killed Senate Bill 2063 on Thursday during a dispute over amendments pushed through by the Republican majority.

There are several ways to revive the bill, which could be the case with a two-thirds vote Monday.

It could be revived by a delayed bill. House Majority Leader Al Carlson says he won’t do it, but Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, noted on Friday that there’s more than one delayed bill committee in the Legislature, meaning the Senate.

Or language to enact Measure 3 could be tacked on to any number of other bills as an amendment before the session is over.

Measure 3 was an initiative driven by former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp and others to force the state to spend much more of its national tobacco settlement income to help smokers quit and to keep non-smokers, especially kids, from starting.

It was on the November ballot, and 54 percent of the nearly 302,000 North Dakotans voting on it approved. That is a majority the measure’s champions consider an absolute mandate, and the House Republican leader dismisses as anything but.

“It didn’t do that great,” said Carlson. “There were 139,000 North Dakotans who said no.”

Carlson and other Republicans changed SB 2063 to strip out the measure’s dictate that a special free-standing committee will operate new tobacco cessation and prevention programs. They also put some of the money envisioned by Measure 3 into other health programs such as cancer detection.

Heitkamp and her allies say the House also voted to end in eight years tobacco programs that Measure 3 would have kept in place for 20 years. Eight years is not long enough, they said.

“The House (change) repeals Measure 3 in 2017 and as a result, over $77 million of tobacco funding mandated by the people will be used for other purposes,” they protested in writing last week.

Carlson denies that Republicans let the bill die Friday because he didn’t have a two-thirds vote to push the bill through as Republicans had amended it. There are 58 Republicans out of the 94 total. He said that wasn’t an issue, but he is blaming Democrats and Measure 3 stalwarts for possibly sealing its doom by block-voting against it.

“If they want to leave it lay and take their chances, right now there’s no funding for this,” he said. “We didn’t come into town on a turnip truck. We’ve been here a couple of times and understand how the rules work.”

Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, has led the charge in the House to fight the Republicans’ changes. He said Measure 3 is the result of the Legislature doing so little to use the past 10 years of state tobacco settlement money to cut tobacco use.

The voters, he said, “spanked us.”

That, he said, means the Legislature should appropriate funds for the measure exactly the way it was drawn up for the voters.


Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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