Ballot initiative bill heads to Senate

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

A bill meant to increase requirements for ballot initiatives is headed to the Idaho Senate’s 14th Order for possible amendments.

The state Capitol building in Boise. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

SB 1159, sponsored by Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, heightens requirements for voter initiative movements. Organizers must gather petition signatures from 10 percent of registered voters — rather than the current 6 percent — and get those signatures from 32 of Idaho’s 35 districts, rather than the current stipulation of 18. Current law states these standards must be met within 18 months, which Grow’s bill shortens to six months.

Under Grow’s bill, neither the Medicaid expansion or historic horse racing initiatives from the most recent election would have made the cut.

According to Grow, the legislation is an attempt to give rural voters a voice in statewide initiatives. Critics see it as backlash against the Medicaid movement, which garnered over 60 percent of the vote in November. 

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 6-3 Wednesday to send SB 1159 to the Senate’s 14th Order after Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said he saw an “error” in the bill, the Idaho Press-Tribune reports. Winder didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the error, but added “maybe if it gets off our floor the House can deal with it.”

Any senator can suggest changes when a bill goes to the 14th Order, the IPT reports.

Boise State Public Radio reported Friday that Grow drafted the bill with the help of John Sheldon, proponent of the failed horse racing initiative and lobbyist for Moneytree. The report detailed emails sent between the two men in which Sheldon provided information on laws in other states that made the ballot initiative process harder.

The Idaho GOP released a statement Wednesday to dispute the report, contradicting BSPR’s findings by saying, “No representative of a payday lending business had a part in drafting this bill.” The GOP also said Grow’s bill “is the result of a House-Senate working group made up of elected legislators who are concerned about the integrity, transparency and fairness of the initiative process.” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told IPT no such group was ever formally created.

Luke Mayville of Reclaim Idaho, the group that spearheaded the Medicaid expansion movement, acknowledged the GOP statement and released one of his own.

“They are attempting to shine a positive light on this bill, but there is too much darkness surrounding the legislation for any such light to penetrate,” Mayville said. “The people of Idaho understand Senator Grow’s bill is an attack on our constitutional rights.”

Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, told the Reader Monday that he doesn’t support SB 1159 as is.

“It goes too far,” he said. “To date, we have not seen a problem come about from our initiative process.”

Woodward did say, however, that including a fiscal note, limiting pay-per-signature and possibly increasing the number of districts could be good changes to the current initiative process.

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