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Bill Adding More Ballot Initiative Restrictions Clears Idaho Senate

Medicaid, medicaid expansion, ilana rubel
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Volunteers for Reclaim Idaho, the group that pushed to expand Medicaid eligibility, haul boxes of petitions to the secretary of state's office for validation in this 2018 file photo.

Idaho senators gave a thumbs up to a bill Monday that would make it significantly harder to get an initiative on the ballot.

Just two Republicans joined all seven Democrats in voting against the proposal.

The bill would force campaigns to gather signatures from 6% of registered voters from all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts. Right now, they only need to collect those signatures from 18 legislative districts.

If approved, Idaho would become the only state with an initiative or referendum process that requires campaigns to collect signatures from every legislative district.

For Sen. Jim Rice (R-Caldwell, that 6% threshold isn’t too high of a hurdle to jump over.

“If an initiative can’t get even that small an amount of support in each of the districts, it’s because it’s not good policy,” Rice said.

But Democrats, including Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise), said the bill would make it nearly impossible for any initiative to get on the ballot if it’s implemented.

“This is about making sure things don’t get on the ballot so that they can be, as the old saying says, killed in its crib,” Burgoyne said.

Backers of the measure said they’re worried about Idaho’s rural corners having a say in whether or not an initiative gets to the ballot.

Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens), who sponsors the bill, said it “provides equity” to each corner of Idaho that may have been passed over in previous ballot initiative campaigns.

“I also think that it helps protect us from out-of-state interest groups,” Vick said, noting that Reclaim Idaho received nearly $550,000 for paid signature gatherers during its successful Medicaid expansion initiative in 2018.

As Boise State Public Radio News previously reported, Reclaim Idaho said volunteers collected about 95% of valid signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot, though those paid signature gatherers came during a critical time as they pushed into Canyon County.

Gov. Brad Little vetoed the most recent attempt to add further restrictions to Idaho’s initiative process in 2019. Those proposals would’ve also cut the time campaigns have to collect signatures, as well as require them to get more of them.

The bill passed 26-9, with many senators flipping their votes compared to the 2019 proposals.

It now goes to the House for consideration.

Meanwhile, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice and former state Attorney General Jim Jones announced he has formed a new group of lawyers “to protect the Idaho Constitution from repeated attacks by the Idaho legislature.”

Jones said the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution will use “every legal avenue” to oppose legislative efforts they think violate the state’s founding document.

“We can’t and won’t stand idly by while the Legislature tries to deconstruct the remarkable Constitution that the Constitutional Convention delegates carefully crafted back in 1889 to guide our State into the future,” Jones wrote in a press release.

That includes this bill, which he says is “a direct attack on the bedrock principle of our Constitution--the right of the people to control their government.”

Other members of the group include another former state attorney general, Tony Park, as well as former Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong and Bruce Smith, a private practice lawyer in Boise.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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