Term Limits Initiative May Be Unconstitutional But Hayden Lake Sponsor Hasn’t Seen Attorney General’s Advisory

An initiative proposal probably is unconstitutional because it includes two separate subjects under the same act, an attorney general’s advisory says.

The attorney general’s office on Wednesday released its analysis of three initiative proposals, all filed just before a new law took effect. Since July 1, initiatives face restrictions that many officials feel will make it nearly impossible to make the ballot in the future.

The attorney general’s analysis of the initiatives are a preliminary step before ballot titles can be written and sponsors can start circulating the proposals. The reports are advisory only and can be disregarded by the sponsors.

Donna Weaver, sponsor of the initiative, said Wednesday afternoon she hasn’t had a chance to study the advisory. “I think we really will have to look at that,” she said.

But Weaver, of Hayden Lake, contended that both subjects in the initiative are closely related to the effort to enforce the term limit limitations approved by voters in 1994.

“I’m not convinced that these two things are tied together,” she said.

The new initiatives are an effort to make term limits work at the local level, Weaver said.

By next July, sponsors of initiatives must gather 41,335 signatures of registered voters to qualify for the November 1998 general election ballot.

One initiative gives counties, municipalities and school districts the option to eliminate term limits by citizen initiative. But it also has a section forbidding former members of the Legislature, or the Legislature’s employees, from lobbying public agencies for the same number of years as the person served in the Legislature or worked there.

An analysis prepared by Deputy Attorney General Matthew McKeown said Article 3, Section 16 of the Idaho Constitution makes it clear that each act can cover no more than one subject unless they are very closely related.

“Section 2 of the proposed initiative attempts to enact legislation concerning two distinct subjects: county term limits and restrictions on lobbying,” the report said.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 1913 and 1923 that matters in a single act must be closely related.

Based on that, a reviewing court is likely to declare the entire initiative void, the report said.

Among the eight initiative proposals filed before the new law went into effect was a plan to eliminate most of the restrictions placed on initiatives by the 1996 Legislature. An advisory concluded it appears proper to amend initiatives by another initiative.

An initiative seeking to encourage candidates for Congress to sign term limit pledges also could run into legal problems, McKeown said. If a candidate signed a pledge, a label would be put by his or her name or if they refused to sign, that also would be noted on the election ballot.

Whether election officials can put any labels or descriptions beside the name of candidates is the subject of a lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

The court heard arguments two months ago but hasn’t issued a ruling yet.

The advisory said if the Supreme Court rules the related 1996 initiative is improper, courts also would strike down the latest attempt to encourage term limit labels.

Another section of the new proposal also could run into legal problems.

It requires election officials to “post in a conspicuous place in every polling location a copy of the Term Limits Pledge.”

State election laws forbid anyone from “circulating cards or handbills of any kind” within 100 feet of a polling place and another law forbids any pro-candidate material.

If that’s the intent, the section should be revised to state that it takes precedence over other state election laws, the advisory said.

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