April 5, 2019 GMT

BOISE — Gov. Brad Little has vetoed a bill that would have raised the threshold to get an initiative on the ballot.

Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159, which would have raised the thresholds from 6 percent of registered voters’ signatures in 18 of 35 legislative districts to 10 percent in 32 of 35 districts.

Little hasn’t yet received House Bill 296, a “trailer bill” which would have set the threshold at 10 percent of signatures in two-thirds of the state’s districts. However, he plans to veto it when he gets it, said his spokeswoman Marissa Morrison.

“I have lived in rural Idaho my whole life,” Little wrote in his veto letter. “I appreciate and support our Legislature seeking ways to ensure the rights of all Idahoans — not just those in urban areas — have a voice in Idaho’s initiative process. Just because you live in a rural area does not mean your voice should be ignored.

“Although S 1159 and its companion, H 296, attempt to give rural Idahoans a greater voice in the initiative process, I believe these bills could give a lone federal judge the only voice in defining our initiative process,” Little continued. “I cannot in good conscience let that happen.”

The bills, which were supported by a majority of Republicans in the Legislature, come on the heels of last year’s successful effort to expand Medicaid via ballot initiative against the will of many GOP lawmakers. Democrats dubbed the bill the “Revenge on Voters Act,” and Democrats and Medicaid expansion advocates have been pushing hard to stop the bills. Thousands of people called Little urging him to veto.

“The decision to veto the Revenge on Voters Act will be one of the most important part of the governor’s legacy,” said Minority Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello. “He has shown that his administration will prioritize people over special interests.”

The bills’ supporters said they were necessary to ensure rural Idahoans are represented in the initiative process. Backers included the entire GOP leadership and influential lobbying groups such as the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

Majority Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said she was disappointed in the veto but that House Republicans “look forward to working with the governor on future legislation that protects Idaho’s processes from out-of-state special interest groups.”

“I agree with the Governor that we must control the rules of our initiative process and keep it out of the hands of the liberal Ninth Circuit Court,” Blanksma continued. “I also agree that we cannot become like California, where their liberal initiative processes hamstring their government, resulting in excessive regulation and conflicting laws. Hopefully we can develop new legislation that will ensure that Idaho will avoid such a fate.”

The veto is Little’s first as governor. Neither bill passed the House or Senate by the two-thirds that would be needed to override a veto.

Little, a Republican, said he agrees with the bill’s intent but vetoed it reluctantly because he doesn’t want the state to be on the losing end of a lawsuit.

“The bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the same Circuit that recently decided Idaho should pay for gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate serving time for molesting a child,” Little wrote. “We need to do all we can to control the rules of our initiative process.”

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said Little was involved in the discussions of the bills. She said the veto was him going back on his previous commitments.

″(It’s) very disappointing,” she said.

Luke Mayville and Rebecca Schroeder, the co-founder and executive director of the pro-Medicaid expansion group Reclaim Idaho, hailed it as a victory.

“Today’s strong action by the governor is a victory for every Idahoan who values our constitution and the role our citizens play in Idaho’s governance,” they said in a statement.