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House committee green lights initiative restrictions bill

Representative James Petzke standing to debate on the Idaho House floor.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Rep. James Petzke (R-Meridian), as seen in this undated file photo. Petzke sponsors a bill heading to the House floor that would add further restrictions to Idaho's ballot initiative process.

An Idaho House committee quickly signed off on a bill Tuesday that would add further restrictions to the state’s ballot initiative process.

If approved, the bill would cut the time campaigners have to collect signatures from 18 months to 17 months.

Rep. James Petzke, the bill’s sponsor (R-Meridian), said that’s to help give more time to county clerks and the Idaho Secretary of State when verifying the signatures.

“I would not have brought this bill if I thought it was unconstitutional or that it would make this process completely impossible to do,” Petzke said, nodding to past legislative attempts to restrict the initiative process that were overturned by the Idaho Supreme Court or a gubernatorial veto.

Over the course of a campaign, organizers have to collect tens of thousands of signatures from across the state to qualify an initiative. Groups would also have to turn in those signatures on a monthly basis, which opponents say would be overly burdensome.

“We have to turn in our campaign finance reports every month,” said Petzke. “There’s lots of things in government that you have to do on a monthly basis. I think that’s a very fair standard to place.”

Rep. Todd Achilles (D-Boise), who heads a veterans group supporting the current open primaries and ranked choice voting initiative, said this bill interferes with several sections of Idaho law.

Under the proposal, the secretary of state’s office must set aside at least 60 days to review the signatures and allow people to remove their signatures from a petition if they’ve changed their mind.

Supporters and opponents must submit arguments for and against any given petition to be included in statewide voter pamphlets. A deadline of Aug. 1 to submit rebuttals to those argument would likely fall within that 60-day review period before closes.

Achilles also said it could also interfere with a federal law requiring ballots to be submitted to overseas military members and citizens 45 days before an election.

The other Democrat on the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise), said the bill was a solution in search of a problem.

“I haven’t heard a single complaint about the present system from anyone who participates. I haven’t heard that anybody has been charged with fraud. I haven’t heard from the secretary of state that they’re having any problem in their office,” Gannon said.

Achilles and Gannon cast the only no votes Tuesday morning.

The proposal now goes to the full House.

Copyright 2024 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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