Groups obtain required signatures

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Farm Bureau says it has gathered more than 30,000 signatures to put a right-to-farm constitutional amendment up for a statewide vote on Nov. 6. A separate anti-cruelty to animals initiative for a state law has also...

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Farm Bureau says it has gathered more than 30,000 signatures to put a right-to-farm constitutional amendment up for a statewide vote on Nov. 6. A separate anti-cruelty to animals initiative for a state law has also reached its goal.

Jeffrey Missling, NDFB executive vice president in Fargo, N.D., says the organization needed 26,904 signatures -- 4 percent of the state's population -- to put the measure up for a vote. The organization has been relying on a volunteer base of 270 petition carriers since August 2011. "We're over the top now, which is good news," he says. "We'll be turning ours in Friday (Aug. 3) afternoon." Several ballot signature measure efforts are in a queue to turn in petitions before the deadline, which is midnight Aug. 8.

The other measure being tracked by agricultural groups is one promoted by North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty. That group says it has more than 25,000 signatures -- well over the 13,462 signatures needed for a state law ballot measure, confirms Karen Thunshelle of Minot, one of its organizers. The group has an appointment with the North Dakota Secretary of State's office to turn in the petition at 10 a.m., Aug. 7.

The ballot initiative for a state law would make cruelty to dogs, cats or horses a Class C felony -- a maximum of five years in prison. Courts could require a psychological or psychiatric evaluation of a perpetrator and could order them not to possess a dog, cat or horse for up to five years if convicted.

It specifically excludes branding or marking of an animal for identification. It expressly says it won't affect North Dakota hunting, fishing, farming and ranching.


If passed, any change to it would require two-thirds majority of the Legislature. It pertains to any person who "maliciously and intentionally burns, poisons, crushes, suffocates, impales, drowns, blinds, skins, bludgeons to death, drags to death, exsanguinates, disembowels or dismembers any living dog, cat or horse."

Meanwhile, Farm Bureau is part of a group of agriculture and other organizations working to strengthen animal care statutes through the legislative process, as an alternative to the animal cruelty ballot initiative. "It's more encompassing," Missling says. "Instead of cats, dogs and horses, it would look at all animal species and still have enough on the books to protect against the small percentage of people who don't treat animals the right way."

Many have asked what the threat is to agriculture that such a measure would guard against. "We've mentioned that there are some of these out-of-state groups coming into other states and negatively impacting -- specifically -- the livestock industry," Missling says.

"We've gathered these signatures from across the state at local county fairs and celebratory events," he says. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive and has allowed us to touch base -- one-on-one -- with a good cross-section of citizens."

Missling estimates less than 3 percent of the responses to the Farm Bureau petition were negative, partly based on his own experience as a volunteer. The Farm Bureau capped off its efforts in a booth at the North Dakota State Fair, where fair officials requested they stay.

Thunshelle said Aug. 1 that her group's petition gathering is being wrapped up and the "response from the community has been overwhelming." She said the drive has exceeded its goals.

Speaking for herself, Thunshelle says she's tired of the empty promises of legislature fixes. She says she'd support the legislative effort, but the initiative effort would take effect in 30 days. She adds that the agriculture community seems still to be fearful of the Humane Society of the United States, which is one of the primary national supporters of the state initiative. She is an HSUS member and says the organization has some 20,000 members in the state. The group has been thinking only about the petitions and hasn't yet set a budget or battle plan for the election.

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Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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