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Batt Signs Initiative Reforms Law Requires Geographic Dispersion Of Signatures

Sat., March 22, 1997, midnight

Dramatic changes in Idaho’s 64-year-old citizen initiative process have been signed into law by Gov. Phil Batt even though he says he has concerns about some of them.

“I’m a little concerned that some of the provisions are a little stringent,” Batt said on Friday. “But they can be changed later.”

The governor, who had indicated earlier his inclination to let the changes become law, specifically cited the new requirement for geographic dispersion of the signatures required to put an initiative on the ballot.

Currently, there is no limitation on where registered voter signatures equal to 10 percent of the last vote for governor must be gathered. They can all be gathered from one county, although that has never happened.

The new law adjusts the signature total to 6 percent of the registered voters in the previous election, currently the equivalent of 10 percent of the last vote for governor. That is intended to end the fluctuation in the total signatures needed based on election turnout.

But it also requires that at least 6 percent of the registered voters in 22 counties sign the petitions.

Batt said that may be excessive although he could see the merit of some kind of requirement for geographic dispersion.

The bill also limits petition campaigns to 18 months before the early-July deadline for submitting signatures in an election year, requires petition circulators to say whether they are paid or volunteers and allows the Supreme Court to determine if an initiative is legal prior to the vote.

Supporters claimed the changes bring balance to the process. Critics contend the changes essentially end citizen access to the ballot.

It was sparked by the out-of-state interests that spent significant amounts of money to qualify initiatives for the 1994 and 1996 ballots. Courts have ruled attempts to restrict such activity would be unconstitutional.

Opponents argued that instead of checking the involvement of out-of-state interests with deep pockets, the bill essentially leaves them as the only ones who will be able to get initiatives on future ballots. Others contend the law amounts to sour grapes from the groups that were forced to pump thousands of dollars into campaigns to defeat initiatives last fall.

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