Tougher ballot initiative requirement bill may be changed

March 20, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill that would dramatically toughen the requirements to get an initiative or referendum on the Idaho ballot is headed to the state Senate for possible changes.

The Senate State Affairs committee on Tuesday voted to send the bill from Eagle Republican Sen. C. Scott Grow to the full Senate for amendments after Sen. Chuck Winder, a Republican from Boise, said he felt it had an error.

“I think we’ve all struggled with this a lot, trying to figure out what’s right and what’s good about it and trying to figure out ways to improve it,” Winder said. “But I think there is an error in the bill that is going to need to be dealt with at some point, and I think if it gets off our floor, the House can deal with it.”

Still, Winder didn’t detail exactly what he thought the error was, and he said he supported an earlier motion to send the bill to the Senate as-is, with a “do pass” recommendation.

The bill would require those seeking ballot initiatives to get signatures from 10 percent of voters in 32 of Idaho’s 35 districts, compared to current rules that require signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 districts. The bill would also cut the time allowed to gather the signatures from 18 months to about six months, and require backers to supply a fiscal note that estimates how much implementation the initiative or referendum is expected to cost.

Critics have said the bill would make Idaho the toughest state in the country for voters to pass a referendum or initiative, potentially violating the state’s constitution. But proponents say the move is necessary to ensure Idaho ballots don’t get overrun with initiatives and to increase participation from rural voters. It has become some of the most contentious legislation of the session, with crowds of opponents packing a hearing held last week and prepared statements being issued from those on both sides on a near-daily basis.

Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett said during Tuesday’s committee meeting that she feared the bill would make it so difficult to get initiatives on the ballot that grassroots groups would be disenfranchised, allowing out-of-state “big money” organizations “to take over the process and pedal initiatives to the state from a national platform.”

Stennett also noted the legislation would put more stringent requirements on average citizens who are pushing for initiatives than it does Idaho legislators who are pushing for bills.

Ultimately, it was Burley Republican Sen. Kelly Anthon who suggested the bill be sent to the full Senate for amendments. He did so after withdrawing his earlier support of a motion made by Soda Springs Republican Sen. Mark Harris to move the bill forward with a “do pass” recommendation.

“My majority leader just indicated he believes there’s a fatal flaw in the bill, so I don’t think it’s appropriate that we shuffle this off to the House,” Anthon said, with Winder quickly clarifying that he’s not sure whether the flaw was “fatal” or not.

The motion to send the bill for amendments passed 6 to 3, with Stennett, Boise Democratic Sen. Christopher Mathias and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, a Republican from Rexburg, voting against.

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