By Lyndsie Kiebert
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled Aug. 23 that a 2021 law to heighten the signature requirements for placing citizens’ initiatives on the ballot violated Idahoans’ constitutional rights.
Prior to the 2021 Idaho legislative session, citizens had to gather signatures from 6% of registered voters in at least 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts, as well as 6% of voters statewide, in order to qualify an initiative for the ballot. Under Senate Bill 1110, that requirement was increased to 6% of voters in all 35 districts.
The court ruled after a lawsuit brought by Sandpoint-grown grassroots organization Reclaim Idaho, along with the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, arguing that the 35-district requirement went against citizen initiative rights as outlined in the Idaho Constitution, which dictate that Idahoans have a right to legislate directly, without interference from the Legislature.
Plaintiffs also challenged a statute signed into law in 2020 that stipulated a successful initiative would not take effect until July 1 of the following year, giving the Legislature a full session to overturn the new citizen-enacted law.
The court issued a unanimous decision in favor of Reclaim Idaho and the committee, effectively repealing both pieces of legislation and reverting Idaho law back to the previous initiative requirements and procedures.
According to a summary of the opinion issued by the Idaho Supreme Court, all five justices concurred that by giving “every legislative district veto power over qualifying initiatives and referenda for the ballot,” SB 1110 would “prevent a perceived, yet unsubstantiated fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ by replacing it with an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’”
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville issued a statement following the ruling, calling back to the many times in the state’s history that “the Idaho Legislature has attempted to dismantle the initiative process” and the governor or court stopped them.
“Today, the Idaho Supreme Court added a new chapter to our state’s proud history of direct democracy,” Mayville wrote. “By restoring the initiative process, the court fulfilled its obligation to protect the democratic rights of every Idaho citizen.”
As the plaintiffs celebrated, voices from across the Statehouse also chimed in. According to the Idaho Capital Sun, Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, maintained that SB 1110 was meant to amplify the influence of rural communities in the Gem State.
“These changes to the voter referendum/initiative process would’ve served to increase voter involvement and inclusivity, especially in the corners of the state too often forgotten by some,” Bedke wrote. “We believe that all the 35 legislative districts, every part of Idaho, should be included in this important process, unfortunately, the Supreme Court apparently disagrees.”
Idaho Democrats applauded the court.
“This bill never should have been passed in the first place as it was in clear violation of the ballot initiative rights established in the Idaho Constitution,” House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, wrote in a media release. “Elected representatives should be working to protect the people’s constitutional rights, not take those rights away as the Idaho GOP did here.”
The Idaho Supreme Court also ruled that the plaintiffs should be awarded reasonable attorney fees in the case.
Reclaim Idaho, the group that successfully put Medicaid Expansion on the state’s ballot in 2018, launched a new initiative campaign in June called the Quality Education Act. If enacted, the new law would increase corporate income taxes as well as income taxes for residents earning more than $250,000 per year, funneling an additional $300 million into Idaho K-12 schools each year.
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