BOISE – A panel of lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to make it more difficult to get initiatives or referendums on Idaho ballots.
Current rules require gathering signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts over an 18-month period. The proposed law would change that to requiring 6% of registered voters in all of the state’s legislative districts during the same time frame.
The proposed law would diminish the effect of large population centers in getting initiatives on ballots.
The Senate State Affairs Committee cleared the way for a hearing on the measure put forward by Republican Sen. Steve Vick.
“It seems clear to me that as the population of Idaho continues to grow and concentrate in the urban areas, that those areas are going to end up making many decisions,” Vick said. “I think the wisdom of having broad support for an initiative is worthwhile and we don’t forget those people who don’t live in population centers.”
Voter-driven ballot initiatives have become a major focus in the state in recent years. After years of inaction by Republican lawmakers, 62% of Idaho voters approved an initiative expanding Medicaid in 2018.
In response, Republicans in the state House and Senate in 2019 tried to make the initiative process nearly impossible so they could head off future left-leaning measures such as raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana.
The first of the 2019 measures would have required signatures from 10% of registered voters in 32 of 35 districts over six months.
It also required that people asked to sign initiative petitions be shown notes on their fiscal impact and possible funding sources.
Another bill required signatures from 24 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts over nine months. It also required 10% of registered voters and specifying the funding source.
Both bills advanced through the House and Senate despite concerns they would make getting initiatives on ballots nearly impossible because a small number of rural counties would essentially have veto power over the process.
Opponents of the measures have said that residents of rural counties are not excluded from the initiative process because they get to vote on them during the general election.
Republican Gov. Brad Little vetoed both bills, citing concerns that a federal court could rule such restrictions were unconstitutional and dictate the state’s initiative process.
Marissa Morrison, Little’s spokeswoman, in an email said the governor’s office had no comment about the introduced bill on ballot initiatives.
Vick didn’t return a telephone message seeking comment.
Earlier this week, the Idaho secretary of state’s office approved signature gathering by a group that wants a medical marijuana legalization initiative put on the ballot in November 2022.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.