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Published August 02, 2012, 05:31 PM

Claim: 20K signatures for ND anti-tobacco campaign enough for vote

BISMARCK – Supporters of an initiative campaign that would ban smoking in North Dakota bars, motels and other workplaces turned in 21,000 petition signatures Thursday, saying they were confident their efforts would put the issue to a statewide vote.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, INFORUM

BISMARCK – Supporters of an initiative campaign that would ban smoking in North Dakota bars, motels and other workplaces turned in 21,000 petition signatures Thursday, saying they were confident their efforts would put the issue to a statewide vote.

The measure’s backers needed signatures from at least 13,452 North Dakota voters to put the proposed law on the November ballot. Secretary of State Al Jaeger has about one month to decide whether the petitions are sufficient.

North Dakota already prohibits smoking in most enclosed public places, but the proposed new anti-tobacco law goes further. It would ban smoking in bars, motels, tobacco shops and private nursing home rooms.

The initiative includes new penalties for tobacco violations, and says bar owners who allow smoking could have their liquor licenses revoked.

Chelsey Matter, a West Fargo respiratory therapist who is chairwoman of the initiative campaign, said she believed North Dakotans have become more accepting of anti-smoking regulations.

“I think people get this issue now,” she said Thursday. “I think there’s just so much more momentum, and a lot more education that’s taken place since then.”

Twenty-nine states, including Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, already have comprehensive laws that cover bars and all public workplaces, she said. A handful of North Dakota cities already do not allow smoking in bars, including Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck.

Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said the trade group would oppose the measure. The association represents restaurants and bars.

“Our position on this hasn’t changed,” Martinson said Thursday. “We believe that (whether to allow smoking) should be up to the business operator and the demands that their customers place on them.”

The smoking prohibition is one of six citizen initiatives that could be on the November ballot.

Others seek to legalize medical marijuana, make animal cruelty a felony and pass a constitutional amendment requiring the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname.

The deadline for turning in petitions to Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office is midnight Wednesday.

Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative and a constitutional amendment that would limit the Legislature’s ability to regulate farming and ranching said Wednesday that they had enough signatures and will turn in their paperwork before the deadline.

Advocates for a proposed felony law targeting animal cruelty and an initiative to set aside a portion of North Dakota’s oil tax collections for conservation projects said Thursday they would also be turning in their petitions.

The sixth proposed measure would change the North Dakota Constitution to require that the University of North Dakota’s sports teams be known as the Fighting Sioux.

In June, 67 percent of North Dakota voters approved an initiative that allows UND to retire the nickname, which the NCAA considers demeaning to American Indians.

No decision has been made about whether to submit the Fighting Sioux amendment in time for the November election, or target the June 2014 primary, which is the next scheduled statewide election.

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