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Eye On Boise

Wed., March 6, 2013, 8:44 a.m.

Testimony on initiative/referenda bill: ‘This process has not been abused’

At the hearing on SB 1108, the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiatives or referendum measures for the Idaho ballot by requiring signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, instead of just 6 percent of voters statewide, former state Sen. Bert Marley, with the Idaho Education Association, told the committee, “To curtail that tool only increases the cynicism and apathy of our citizens towards government. This process has not been abused.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill questioned Marley about any charges that the bill was in “retribution” for the successful referendum campaign in November that overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws. “This is a sensitive issue,” Hill said. “There are many of us that have worked very, very hard to make sure there were no vindictive actions as a result of that proposition process. ... Despite how some of us vote on this issue, at least, it has nothing to do with that. … It is not an act of retribution in any sense, and I’d appreciate anything you can do to help convey that to your members.

Russ Hendricks, lobbyist for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which proposed the bill, said his group worries about abuse of initiatives or referenda in the future. He told the committee, “Our members are keenly aware of the old adage that it’s always important to close the barn door before the horse gets out and not after. We see what’s happening in other areas. We feel it’s important to go ahead and make some adjustments now before there are abuses.” He said the state has an interest in "ensuring ... statewide support for an initiative before it goes on the ballot." Under questioning, he said, "I guess there's a possibility somebody could take it to court."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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