Measure supporters make final signature drives at State Fair

Backers of two initiatives were working the crowds at the North Dakota State Fair this past week in a final drive to collect signatures to place their measures on the November ballot.

Petitions continue to circulate for measures requiring North Dakota schools to start after Labor Day and to establish a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Trust.

“I know we are close,” said Charles Tuttle of Minot, who manned a table outside the fair gate all week to solicit signatures on the school measure. “Next week, we will know.”

Tuttle estimated he had collected nearly 2,000 signatures during the fair. That’s about half the number collected at the fair on a past measure to retain the Fighting Sioux nickname at the University of North Dakota, which he also was involved in, he said. He blamed weather for some of the slack in signatures as people rushed by the get out of the wind and threatening rain Saturday.

The deadline to file to get a measure on the November ballot is Aug. 6. As a statutory measure, the school initiative needs 13,452 signatures, although measure supporters typically aim for significantly more to ensure an adequate number remain after the Secretary of State’s review.

Tuttle said the measure is getting support from both teachers and parents. Stopping by the table Saturday was a Minot Public School support staff member who sought out the petitions after learning on Facebook about the opportunity to sign at the fair.

“I think it’s insane that we start before Labor Day,” she said, noting a statewide mandate is needed. Even though individual schools are free to set their own calendars, they won’t set a post-Labor Day start date if neighboring schools don’t do the same, she said.

Tuttle said people who have signed the petitions cite the hot temperatures in late August and early September and lack of air conditioning in many schools. There also are economic reasons for extending the summer, he said. One boat salesman told him he was signing because he’d sell more boats if school started later, he said.

The main concerns he’s heard relate to local control over the school calendar and pushing back the last day of school into June. However, this year, Minot public schools, which start Aug. 27, have their last day of school on June 3 if no makeup days are needed. Grand Forks and Bismarck, which start after Labor Day, finish June 4.

The petition circulator for the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks constitutional initiative was collecting signatures across Burdick Expressway from the fairgrounds, near the Holiday Inn, but was not authorized to speak to media.

The measure would allot 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction taxes for conservation purposes. Ten percent of the 5 percent would go into a trust fund with interest available for use after January 2019. The other 90 percent would go to a fund for grants for private and public groups to aid water quality, natural flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, parks and outdoor recreation, access for hunting and fishing, acquisition of land for parks and outdoor education for children.

The fund would be controlled by a commission consisting of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. A 13-member citizens accountability board would review grant applications to make recommendations to the commission.

Supporters need at least 26,904 signatures by Aug. 6 to get the measure ont the November ballot.

Supporters of a measure to remove the requirement that pharmacies be owned by licensed pharmacists turned in their petitions to the Secretary of State last week. An initiated measure relating to shared parental rights and responsibilities already has been approved by the Secretary of State for the November ballot.