Deja Vu: Idaho House Republicans Revive Vetoed Ballot Initiative Restrictions

Apr 8, 2019

Idaho House Republicans have resurrected a measure on ballot initiative restrictions by splitting it into four pieces of legislation less than three days after the original bill was vetoed by Gov. Brad Little (R).

Lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee introduced the four new bills Monday morning. Taken together, they’d still give campaigns less time to collect nearly twice as many signatures from two-thirds of the state’s legislative districts.

They’d also require backers to explain how the state would pay for a particular initiative.

“This is an effort to have both our bodies, and hopefully the governor, choose what may be distasteful, and hopefully tasteful, to them because it was a good piece of legislation,” said Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), who also sponsored the vetoed bill.

Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) tried to block the proposals from even being introduced, saying parliamentary rules prohibit the legislature from taking up a bill that’s already been rejected or passed by the House and Senate.

It also circumvents the veto override process outlined in the Idaho Constitution, Gannon says.

Two-thirds of House and Senate are needed to override a gubernatorial veto, but neither the original bill, nor the subsequent attempt to loosen some of the proposed restrictions, earned enough votes to meet that threshold.

“This process they’re trying to use to put the same bill – essentially – through the legislature … just nullifies the Constitutional provision,” he says.

But a House parliamentarian ruled against Gannon, saying these were new bills and not subject to that rule.

Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) recommended one of the proposals immediately be sent to the House after it was introduced and therefore bypassing a public hearing.

Democrats took issue with that, arguing that if these proposals are considered new bills, then they should also get a public airing before making it to the House floor.

“When we are taking the public out of our lawmaking it is a disturbing trend. It’s not clear, it’s not transparent. It’s the bare minimum,” said Rep. Brooke Green (D-Boise).

Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard), who opposed both original initiative restriction proposals earlier this year, asked that the other three be introduced to get public testimony.

It’s unlikely the first bill requiring groups to come up with a fiscal note will get a public hearing, but House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) referred the other three back to committee, where they may get a public hearing.

Should these bills make it to the governor’s desk, some of them might find an ally.

In a letter describing why he vetoed the original proposal, Little said he did so “reluctantly.”

“Although [these bills] attempt to give rural Idahoans a greater voice in the initiative process, I believe these bills could give a lone federal judge the only voice in defining our initiative process.

“I cannot in good conscience let that happen," he wrote.

Instead, Little said he looked forward to working with the Idaho Legislature to “more closely examine these issues moving forward.”

It’s unclear when the House State Affairs Committee could take up these bills again.

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