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Published November 26, 2012, 10:17 AM

After 5

Stockmen and other livestock producers prepare for follow-through legislation after North Dakota's Measure 5 failed.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The long-time chairman of the North Dakota Senate Agriculture Committee says he expects to be a prime sponsor of legislation that follows up on the failed Measure 5 vote that would have made some forms of animal cruelty a felony in North Dakota.

State Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, says he and key leaders from both parties — urban and rural, east and west in the state — will be involved.

“I think people wanted something to happen” but “felt there were better options than Measure 5,” Flakoll says, reflecting on the vote. He acknowledges he was surprised at how lopsided the vote was, considering how early momentum seemed to be on the side of the “yes” vote. The issue had heavy financial backing from the Humane Society of the United States.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association spearheaded a coalition effort against Measure 5. It was defeated with a 65 percent “no” vote. It would have imposed a felony penalty for egregious abuse of cats, dogs and horses.

The North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care coalition has been working on a bill for introduction in the 2013 Legislature. The group has been gathering support and input from law enforcement, attorneys and veterinarians, to make sure a bill that goes into the Legislature will be understandable and enforceable, Flakoll says. He says State Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, who has been chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, will also be a sponsor, as well as Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks.

Flakoll says if the measure had passed on Nov. 6, he would have been reluctant to introduce new legislation on grounds that it would seem to be working against the will of the people. But because of the vote, he thinks legislation is appropriate. He expects proponents of Measure 5 will come and testify.

Something better

Flakoll, who is provost of the Tri-College University, based in Fargo, was an animal scientist at North Dakota State University from 1984 to 1995, where he worked in care of beef cattle and horses for the university and assisted with research and teaching. He says he voted against the measure on grounds that he wanted “an opportunity to do something significantly better and more relevant in terms of common problems” in animal care. He says the details of the bill are still being developed.

Sheyna Strommen, communications director for the stockmen’s association, says she doesn’t think the heavy thumping of the measure will lessen interest in a 2013 bill.

“This group … had always planned on coming back and sitting down at the table after the last (legislative) effort didn’t go through,” she says. Strommen notes that the Senate in 2011 unanimously supported the study resolution, but that the idea lost by a vote of 36 to 56 in the House.

“That vote was closer than what it was made out to be,” Strommen says. “I don’t think that hindered our resolve to come back and take a look at this issue. There’s got to be something that happens this time.”

Strommen notes the measure prevailed in only two counties. Yes votes exceeded no votes in Grand Forks county by only 600 votes and the issue prevailed by only 50 votes in Sioux County. “All the other counties in the state voted no, resoundingly,” Strommen says.

A Mason-Dixon poll conducted by NBC News had the measure prevailing. “It had us opposite — 60-30,” Strommen says. “We had a great grassroots effort — the North Dakota Stockmen, a lot of other animal stewards, members through the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union — others stepped it up, talking about why this issue was important to them. I think they talked to their friends and family, and helped us get some traction.”

The issue was fronted by veterinarians — mostly female — on both sides.