By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reclaim Idaho announced June 8 that the grassroots organization has filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney arguing that they violated the group’s First Amendment rights by “making it impossible” to collect the signatures needed for the Invest in Idaho initiative during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho “to grant an expedited preliminary injunction to temporarily alter Idaho’s rules for signature gathering” to allow for electronic signature collection and a deadline extension, according to a press release from Reclaim Idaho. The group is best known as the driving force behind the 2018 initiative to expand medicaid in Idaho, which passed with 61% of the vote.
The Invest in Idaho initiative, which officially launched in August 2019 and received approval from the secretary of state’s office in October, aims to increase funding for Idaho K-12 education by $170 million each year. This would be achieved by increasing tax rates for corporations and the wealthy.
Reclaim Idaho volunteers had garnered more than 30,000 signatures and qualified five legislative districts as of March 18, when the organization called off its signature collection operations in response to COVID-19. Under Idaho law, ballot initiatives need signatures from 6% of registered voters from 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts — in total, about 55,000 signatures. There were still 43 days to go when Reclaim Idaho ceased signature gathering.
Reclaim Idaho volunteer leader Linda Larson, of Bonner County, submitted a declaration along with the lawsuit.
“Had Reclaim Idaho been able to continue [gathering signatures], there is no doubt in my mind that we would have successfully met the state requirements needed to see this put on the November ballot,” Larson wrote.
The lawsuit argues that petitioners’ rights were violated when the state government failed to give them a safe alternative to in-person signature collection, and that by “preventing the issue of education funding from appearing on the ballot,” the governor and secretary of state kept petitioners from bringing education funding to the forefront of statewide discussion.
Reclaim Idaho argues that education budget shortfalls due to the pandemic and a recent proposal from Little to cut funding by $99 million have made the Invest in Idaho initiative increasingly important.
“The people of Idaho understand that we cannot afford to slash funding for education, especially not now,” said Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville. “They know that our kids are the future of our economy, and that a strong economic rebound will require investment in K-12 education.”
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