Governor Brad Little Will Decide The Fate Of Idaho's Ballot Initiative Process

Apr 3, 2019

Gov. Brad Little (R) will now consider two proposals that opponents say would make it nearly impossible to get an initiative on the ballot.

The Idaho Senate signed off on the latest bill Wednesday 20-15, with several members changing their vote from the more restrictive proposal. State senators narrowly passed the original bill 18-17 nearly two weeks ago.

Under both bills, campaigns would have significantly less time to get nearly twice as many signatures as required under current law. They’d also have to collect those signatures from 10% of registered voters in a certain number of the state’s 35 legislative districts.

The original bill pegged that number at 32 of 35 districts. The revised House version passed by the Senate Wednesday would drop that threshold to 24 of 35 districts. Right now, campaigns have to qualify 18 districts.

Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) was one of two people who dropped their support of the proposal. Harris says he feels this new revision “waters down” the original and dilutes the voices of his rural constituents.

Dropping the threshold for legislative districts, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder (R-Boise), was a compromise to “minimize potential legal challenges” that opponents expect will come if these bills are signed into law.

Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) sponsored both measures and says he doesn’t think the proposals would make a ballot initiative impossible.

“I’m confident that if it’s something they feel passionate about that they’d be able to do that and so I don’t feel that [this bill] restricts the ability to get an initiative on the ballot,” Grow says.

Support for these ideas was nearly nonexistent throughout hours of public testimony over the past few weeks outside of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Food Producers of Idaho and Idaho Freedom Foundation.

The Idaho Farm Bureau publicly dropped its support of the latest version this week because it would require fewer districts to get an initiative on the ballot.

Gov. Little told the Idaho Press Tuesday that he wanted to consider both bills side by side before commenting on the issue.

As of Tuesday evening, his office received more than 4,600 phone calls or emails asking him to veto the bills. Roughly 40 have supported them, according to a spokesperson for the governor.

During the debate, Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene) told her colleagues not to put much stock in those numbers.

“The modern abilities to send this information and have this instant feedback in mass numbers may not be interpreted by us in our old-fashioned ways and it may not be accurate for what we’ve experienced in the past,” Souza says.

For the less restrictive House version to become law, Little must first sign off on the original version before it’s replaced by the newer bill. That’s because lawmakers split the proposals into two bills instead of amending the original.

Little has five days to act on these bills from the time they reach his desk before they automatically become law without his signature.

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