Activists claim success for anti-tobacco campaign

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Backers of a complete ban on smoking in bars and other North Dakota workplaces say they have enough initiative petition signatures to put the issue to a vote this fall.

The smoking prohibition is one of six citizen initiatives that could be on the November ballot. Some of the others would 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 Aug. 8.

Advocates of the anti-tobacco initiative planned Thursday news conferences in Bismarck and Fargo to announce they had gathered the required 13,452 signatures needed to get it on the ballot. If approved, the proposed law would be listed as Measure 3.

"We've had a lot of great volunteers out in the field, doing a lot of hard work," said the campaign's chairwoman, Chelsey Matter, a West Fargo respiratory therapist. "We're just really excited to announce our plans going forward."

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

Supporters of the medical-marijuana initiative and a constitutional amendment that would limit the Legislature's ability to regulate farming and ranching said Wednesday they had enough signatures and will turn in their paperwork before the Aug. 8 deadline.

Backers of the proposed law against animal cruelty and an initiative to set aside a portion of North Dakota's oil tax collections for conservation projects did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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.

Sean Johnson, a nickname supporter, said the constitutional amendment would prevent UND from permanently severing the link to its nickname.

"This is a different ballot measure ... It doesn't require the sports teams at UND to do anything. They don't have to wear the logo, they don't have to use the name," Johnson said Wednesday.

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. Amendment supporters have until Dec. 12 to turn in their petitions.

"We haven't decided which election we want to have the initiated measure to be a part of," Johnson said. "We're still weighing the options, and keeping those options open."