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Eye On Boise

Bill would make it harder for initiatives, referenda to qualify for Idaho ballot

Idaho would make it harder to collect enough signatures to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot, under legislation introduced this morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee at the request of lobbyist Russ Hendricks of the Idaho Farm Bureau; the bill’s sponsor is the committee’s chairman, Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa; you can read my full story here at Idaho lawmakers amended the initiative and referendum law in 1997 to require signatures equal to at least 6 percent of the registered voters in at least 22 counties, in an attempt to ensure that such measures couldn’t qualify solely with signatures from Idaho’s biggest cities. That was overturned as unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court, however, saying it unconstitutionally gave more say to rural residents than urban ones. In 2003, the 9thCircuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The new legislation points out that while the 9thCircuit’s opinion rejected the “minimum number of counties” standard, it left open the possibility of using a different geographic distribution requirement, such as legislative districts. The bill requires signatures from at least 6 percent of registered voters in at least 22 Idaho legislative districts; Idaho has 44 counties and 35 legislative districts. The total number of signatures still would have to equal 6 percent of the registered voters in the state.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said he had “grave concerns” about the change, which nonetheless was introduced on a unanimous voice vote; that opens the way for a full hearing on the measure in the committee.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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