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Idaho Senate pulls initiative restrictions proposal for amendments

The dome of the Idaho Statehouse at sunset with an American flag and Idaho flag.
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio

A proposed constitutional amendment to further restrict the ballot initiative process in Idaho isn’t going directly to the Senate floor, with Republican leaders saying it needs some tweaks.

The proposed constitutional amendment would force organizers to gather a certain number of signatures from all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts. Currently, they only need to meet that threshold in 18 districts.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley) declined to say what those changes might be in committee.

In an interview with Boise State Public Radio later on Wednesday, Anthon said the legislation only adds these restrictions to initiatives. He wants to include referendums under the scheme, which is the process citizens can use to reject laws passed by the legislature.

Just two of the 42 people who testified during the two-and-a-half-hour-long hearing supported adding these additional restrictions.

“We shouldn’t have to vote on a constitutional amendment to prove to you, once again, that we want this process left alone,” said Ashley Prince, a staffer for Reclaim Idaho, the group behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion initiative and last year’s Quality Education Act.

Ever since Medicaid expansion passed with 61% of the vote more than four years ago, GOP legislators have tried to impose more restrictions on the initiative process.

In 2021, the Idaho Supreme Court declared one of those laws – which closely mirrors this proposal – to be unconstitutional. Justices said the effects of the bill created a “perceived, but unsubstantiated fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ by replacing it with an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’”

During the hearing, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee (R-Fruitland) asked some of those who testified why shouldn’t these restrictions be put before voters, just like other initiatives.

“If we trusted the voters on those issues, can’t we trust the voters to respond across the state on this particular proposal?” Lee said

Diane Schwarz, who says she’s lived in Idaho for 17 years, replied, saying that would set a precedent for lawmakers to re-examine every bit of the state’s constitution.

“Do we want to go back to the voters and say, ‘Free speech – do we want to take that out,’ and put that question to the voters? That’s why I just think the question itself is not legitimate,” Schwarz said.

Sen. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden), the resolution’s sponsor, said his proposal would be inclusive of everyone in the state, though all voters get to vote on issues that make it to the ballot.

“I hope that we don’t silence the voice of the people in this instance,” Okuniewicz said, drawing jeers from the audience.

It’s unclear when the issue may come up for amendments.

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!

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