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3/17/2010 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson


If you want a full-time state legislature make sure you sign a petition requiring legislators to read every bill they vote on.

This is the dumbest idea since term limits, which operates on the principle that the stupid voters don’t know what they’re doing so they have to be protected by limiting who they can vote for. Term limits are anti-democracy, pure and simple.

Now a group is trying to get enough signatures to put on the ballot a measure that would require legislators to read every bill they vote on.

Our North Dakota State Legislature operates on an 80-day time limit every two years. They almost always get their work done in 80 days, but it’s done at a pace that would shock the ordinary citizen. Legislators start their day early and end it late. There is no break at noon. If they’re lucky they may be able to grab a sandwich at noon. In the evenings the legislators are expected to attend receptions put on by interest groups. It’s like being in a pressure cooker.

The proposed law would also require that finished versions of bills have to be posted on the Internet for at least four days before there’s a final vote.

In 2008 there were 1,128 bills submitted, totaling 3,457 pages.

Writing in the Grand Forks Herald, Tom Dennis pointed out that the proposed law, if voters pass it, would have required members of the 2009 legislature read at least 43 pages a day.

"Or, in reality, several times that number of pages on many days, because lawmakers don’t arrive in Bismarck to find a stack of finished bills waiting on their desks. First, the bills get heard by committees; that process takes days or weeks. Then the House and Senate each vote on its own bills by "crossover," the halfway point, at which point the bills that pass go to the other chamber.

"The result would be periods before crossover and toward the end of the session in which lawmakers would have to read hundreds and hundreds of pages a day.

"And even that wouldn’t be the toughest problem. The toughest problem probably would be that as bills evolve and are amended, they may be in ‘final form’ any number of different times. After every amendment, would each new version of the bill have to be posted online for four days?

(And be read again by lawmakers, presumably.) "The answer seems to be yes. But in that case, given the likelihood of a ‘post online, wait four days, amend; post online, wait four days, amend’

cycle, it’s hard to see how the new law could square with the session’s 80-day time limit."

Those are Tom Dennis’s words. My words are that it would be absolutely impossible for the legislature to get its work done in 80 days if the people require such foolishness. It will be the first step to a full-time state legislature.

The state legislature operates on the committee system wherein the committee that handles each bill gives a recommendation to the legislature. Those bills are gone over thoroughly in committee and it simply isn’t necessary for every member of the legislature to read every bill.

The system has worked fine in the past and I certainly can’t see any need to change it because the change would definitely be worse than what we have now.

You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m not going to be suckered into signing any such petition.


I certainly hope the endless health care debate will end soon. I’m hoping the bill will be passed and signed into law. Then we won’t have to listen to lies about the bill any more. It’s been debated for more than a year and it’s time to vote.

As one letter writer stated in The Forum (Fargo, ND) on March 13:

"Republicans agree that there is a need for the government to end annual and lifetime caps on insurance benefits, to end denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and on the need for regulation to contain rising costs and combat fraud. Therefore, they cannot also argue that the government has no role to play in health care coverage. This also undercuts the core Republican argument that Democrats need to throw out all the legislation and start over, since they agree with the core.

"So, let’s get on with it and pass this for the people, not keep the status quo for the insurance industry, which is the only one benefiting from the status quo."

Writing in the New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman shreds three big lies we’ve all heard:

1) The Obama Administration is orchestrating a government takeover of the health care industry;

2) The proposed reform does nothing to control costs; and

3) That the reform bill is fiscally irresponsible.

Krugman’s column is copyrighted, so I can’t reprint it, but it’s available on the Internet at Go to recent columns on the right side of the page and click on "Health Reform Myths."

The health insurance companies are pulling out all stops to kill any reform of the health insurance industry. Don’t pay any attention to their lies.

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