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Critics of tougher initiative requirement bill pack hearing

March 11, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Opponents of a bill that would make it far more difficult to get a voter initiative on the Idaho ballot packed a Statehouse auditorium Monday, but only a few got a chance to speak to a state Senate panel.

With five other matters on the agenda ahead of the bill, State Affairs Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican from Huston, nearly closed the hearing after noting that those still waiting to testify were largely against the bill.

However, Republican Sen. Chuck Winder pointed out that cutting off testimony could give the impression that the lawmakers weren’t interested in the measure.

“I think this is a big issue, and I think the timing is unfortunate as people are seeing it as a swat in the face of the initiative that just passed,” said Winder, referring to a Medicaid expansion initiative approved by voters last November.

Lodge then said the hearing — and a potential vote on the bill — would be continued Friday.

The legislation would require those seeking ballot initiatives to get signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in 32 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. The current rules require signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 districts.

The proposed bill also would cut the time allowed to gather the signatures from 18 months to six months.

Republican Sen. Scott Grow of Eagle, the sponsor of the bill, said it is not intended to attack the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, noting that it wouldn’t be affected because it had already passed.

He said the legislation is needed to ensure that rural counties are included in ballot initiative efforts, and to increase transparency because the legislation would also require a fiscal impact statement for any proposed initiative.

Half the states in the U.S. don’t allow ballot initiatives, and Idaho’s Constitution allows the process with a caveat, Grow said: “It also stipulates that he people may do so under such conditions and in such manner as may be provided by acts of the Legislature.”

“This right of voter initiatives can be carried to an extreme — we are beginning to see this in some of our neighboring states,” Grow said, noting that Oregon had six voter initiatives on the ballot and California had 16 in the last election.

Luke Mayville, founder of the group Reclaim Idaho which worked to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot and passed last fall, said lawmakers already addressed the issues in Grow’s bill in legislation that was passed in 2013.

“We can agree that it is a constitutional right of Idaho citizens to initiate laws. We can also agree that it should be difficult,” Mayville said.

Grow’s bill would make Idaho the toughest state in the nation to get an initiative on the ballot, he said, by implementing some of the highest signature requirements with some of the shortest time limits.

The Medicaid expansion initiative effort included signatures gathered from 17 rural counties and met the rural requirements created by the 2013 bill, Mayville said.

“This bill sets out to solve a problem that was solved in 2013,” he said. “In fact it is an extreme restriction on one of the most cherished constitutional rights in Idaho.”