Point/Counterpoint: SB 1159 & HB 296 — The ‘voter initiative’ bill

Is it right to toughen up the signature requirements for placing an initiative on Idaho’s ballots?

Corruption, corruption, corruption
By Luke Mayville
Reader Contributor

Last Friday, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 40-30 to pass Senate Bill 1159, legislation that would essentially revoke our constitutional right to organize citizen ballot initiatives. The bill will move to the governor’s desk sometime this week for either a signature or a veto. 

During the floor debate, House Speaker Scott Bedke cautioned critics of the bill about using the word “corruption.” Apparently, it is permissible to use the word to describe historical events, he said, but not to describe present-day Idaho politics.

But the truth is there’s only one word that adequately describes the events unfolding in the Idaho State Legislature, and that word is “corruption.”

Senate Bill 1159 was corrupt from its inception. Just weeks after Senator C. Scott Grow proposed the bill, investigative reporting revealed that Grow worked hand-in-hand with a lobbyist from the predatory payday-loan industry. That same industry was still reeling from an overwhelming vote in Colorado to regulate payday-loan interests in that state. How did that happen? By citizen ballot initiative.  

When Idaho citizens showed up in droves to testify against the bill, Senate Republican leadership ridiculed and disrespected them. Senator Patti Anne Lodge attempted to cut off testimony and go right to a vote until a fellow Senator stepped in and stopped her. The only supporters of the anti-initiative bill were paid lobbyists.

Last week, four former Idaho attorneys general came out in opposition to the bill. Former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa called 1159 “a full-frontal assault on the constitutional right of initiative.” Representative Priscilla Giddings, who is arguably Idaho’s most conservative elected official, wrote that 1159 would “essentially repeal our constitutional right to bring citizen initiatives.”

Feeling the heat of public scrutiny, the bill’s supporters went back to the drawing board last Thursday and made a few insignificant changes – lipstick on a pig, if you will. The amended “trailer” bill (House Bill 296), just like the original, would burden Idaho with the most restrictive initiative rules in the country. Worst of all, the amendment process only thickened the fog of corruption surrounding the bill. The House Ways and Means Committee violated House Rules and drafted the amendments in a secret, unannounced meeting with no public input.

It is important to recall that during debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Grow urged his fellow senators to ignore the thousands of emails and phone calls they’d received from their constituents. He urged them to set aside the demands of the public — which Grow dismissed as a “vocal minority” — and instead to recognize that the bill is supported by Idaho’s most powerful special-interest groups, including the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Food Producers of Idaho, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry — and of course, Grow’s supporters in the payday loan industry. Never mind the fact that nearly two-thirds of Idahoans — and 57% of Grow’s district — voted for Medicaid Expansion through the ballot initiative process. 

 Ironically, the initiative process itself was established as a remedy for precisely this type of corruption. Way back in 1912, ordinary Idahoans established the constitutional right of initiative as a check on the business interests, banks and powerful railroad companies that dominated the Idaho Legislature. 

Recent events prove that our Legislature is once again corrupted by special interests — as much now, perhaps, as any time since the heyday of the Robber Barons. There has hardly ever been a time when our constitutional right to organize ballot initiatives was more in need of protection. 

We must all call on Governor Little to veto Senate bill 1159 and House Bill 296.

Luke Mayville is the co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, a grassroots movement designed to improve the quality of life of working Idahoans. Reclaim Idaho was responsible for gathering enough signatures to put the Medicaid expansion bill on the state ballot in 2018, where it was passed with nearly 61% of the vote. Luke is from Sandpoint.


Protect citizens from majority rule
By Danielle Ahrens
Reader Contributor

The initiative process was added to the Idaho Constitution in 1912. The amendment did not specify the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative, which meant that the legislature can set the threshold and change it at anytime. It is Article 3, Section 1. Only 21 states actually allow citizens to propose new state statutes via initiative, and Idaho is one of these. The majority of states do not have this as it is direct democracy and seen as a bypass to our representative-republic lawmaking process in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 1159 proposed that initiatives:

•Address only one subject

•Contain an effective date

•Include a proposed funding source and fiscal impact statement

•Petition be signed by 10% (up from 6%) of qualified electors

•The signers are from at least 32 of our 35 Districts (up from 18)

•The signatures be gathered within 180 days (up from 18 months)

The trailer bill HB 296 decreases the districts needed to 24 and increases the time to 9 months. This bill just passed in the House and as of 4/02/2019 the Senate panel approved it by 6-3.

What created this legislation was a concern that heavily urban areas were overly represented by signature gathering, and the rural areas were not being represented. In other neighboring states, ballot initiatives have been used to infringe on the rights of other citizens, and by further defining the parameters of the process here in Idaho, the thought is to protect the rights of the minority. This is why our country was founded as a representative republic, which protects the rights of the individual from majority rule. Many citizens think that the initiative process should not even exist as the majority of states won’t even allow them, but as it is in our constitution, it is up to the Legislature to decide what the terms and conditions are, and as our state is growing so quickly, it was thought to put a broader base on required areas for signatures. The addition of asking for a funding source and a fiscal impact is important. As we see with the latest Proposition 2, a law that is passed with no proposed funding source or true fiscal impact. It leaves an unfunded mandate that gets passed on to counties and ultimately the citizens.

While many say this bill is unconstitutional and will be challenged in court, I don’t agree. Read the Idaho Constitution Article 3 Section 1 and decide for yourself.

Article 3 Section 1:

“The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature. This power is known as the initiative, and legal voters may, under such conditions and in such manner as may be provided by acts of the legislature, initiate any desired legislation and cause the same to be submitted to the vote of the people at a general election for their approval or rejection.”

As we see here, the Legislature is able to make any and all changes to this process as it sees needed. The bill SB 1159 has been modified by the bill HB 296 which has decreased the districts needed and increased the time allowed. The process will continue this week and should have a final result soon as we are at the end of our three-month legislative session.

Danielle Ahrens is a passionate adventurer of ideas and solutions for the people and is very involved in Idaho Republican politics.


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