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Ballot initiatives once again in GOP crosshairs

Amy Pratt, a volunteer for Reclaim Idaho, gathers signatures by going door-to-door in Idaho Falls in October 2018 to encourage voters to expand Medicaid eligibility in Idaho. Social distancing measures are making the kind of campaigning needed for ballot measures nearly impossible.
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio
Amy Pratt, a volunteer for Reclaim Idaho, gathers signatures by going door-to-door in Idaho Falls in October 2018 to encourage voters to expand Medicaid eligibility in Idaho.

Republican lawmakers are once again seeking to add further restrictions to the ballot initiative process – this time through a constitutional amendment.

The proposal from Sen. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden) would require initiative groups to get a certain number of signatures from all 35 legislative districts. Right now, they only need to gather signatures in half of those districts.

GOP lawmakers passed a similar law in 2021, but the Idaho Supreme Court struck it down, saying “…this would result in a scheme that squarely conflicts with the democratic ideals that form the bedrock of the constitutional republic.”

As previously reported by Boise State Public Radio at the time, justices said the effects of the law created a “perceived, but unsubstantiated fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ by replacing it with an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’”

So, Okuniewicz took a different tack.

“What this approach does, is it puts the question to the people and it allows them to make that decision and decide if this is something that’s in their best interests,” he said.

“That should inoculate it from any legal troubles and we get back to the issue.”

Wednesday’s introductory hearing lasted just a few minutes.

Constitutional amendments first need two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate before going before voters in the next general election. Should this pass through the legislature, it would appear on the ballot in November 2024.

Since 61% of voters approved Medicaid expansion in 2018, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly said further initiative restrictions are necessary to protect rural interests and avoid a flood of proposals.

Idahoans gave themselves initiative powers more than a century ago. In that time, just 15 have passed out of the 30 that made it to the ballot – and just five have qualified in the last two decades.

Most recently, Reclaim Idaho gathered enough signatures for its campaign to boost education funding through tax increases on the wealthy.

But, the group pulled its initiative after legislators circumvented it during a special session by lowering taxes across the board and dedicating another $410 million towards education last September.

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

Copyright 2023 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. If you have a tip, please get in touch!