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Idaho's latest losing court battle brings taxpayers' bill to $3.3M

Amy Pratt, Idahoans for Healthcare, Medicaid for Idaho, canvas
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s top elected leaders approved paying out $152,000 in legal costs Monday after the state lost a case defending a law that made it significantly harder to get an initiative on the ballot.

The Idaho Supreme Court found the law to be unconstitutional in August.

For the roughly four months it was in effect, the law required campaign organizers to collect a certain number of signatures from all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts.

Supporters of the law said it would only allow issues that resonate with the whole state to be put to voters, though residents would get to weigh in on any initiative if it qualified for the ballot.

Justices wrote in the majority opinion that such a law gives any one district “veto power” over another.

They also criticized it as creating a “perceived, but unsubstantiated fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ by replacing it with an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’”

Reclaim Idaho, the group behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion initiative, sued the state this year to block the law.

The $152,000 payout is the latest in a string of courtroom defeats for the state that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Since its creation in 1995, taxpayers have covered more than $3.3 million in legal expenses in 16 cases. Nearly all of those were in defense of laws or actions by state officials later deemed to be unconstitutional or illegal.

Some of those cases include Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, the state’s “ag-gag” law preventing undercover investigation on farms and ranches and a law preventing a military veteran from being buried next to her wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

The Constitutional Defense Fund was originally created to challenge federal overreach, according to former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, who was one of its lead sponsors in 1995.

It was first used that year to reach a settlement with the federal government to halt nuclear waste shipments to the state and clean up radioactive materials that were already stored here.

Since then, Newcomb said the fund has lost its original purpose.

He’s likened the fund to a default checkbook for the Idaho legislature to pass laws they know are unconstitutional, but sound good to constituents.

“A good share of these times the attorney general said, ‘We don’t have a leg to stand on,’ but we chose to pursue it anyway,” Newcomb told Boise State Public Radio in 2019.

Idaho is currently defending another controversial law that bans transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

A federal district court judge temporarily blocked that law,a decision that’s currently being considered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

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.

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