Idaho Legislature approves changes to initiative signature gathering requirements

The bill would require signatures from 6% of voters in each of the state’s 35 legislative districts. 

Rep. Jim Addis (R, Coeur d’Alene) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho House on Wednesday sent a bill that would change the signature gathering requirements for citizen ballot initiatives to Gov. Brad Little’s desk for final consideration.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 1110 would require organizers of a ballot initiative to collect signatures from 6% of voters in each of the state’s 35 legislative districts. 

Current law requires signatures from 6% of voters in 18 legislative districts.

Supporters say the bill ensures rural voters have a say in the initiative process. 

“What this does do is ensure all corners of Idaho have a say in the formation of Idaho law,” said Rep. Jim Addis, the Coeur d’Alene Republican who sponsored the bill. “It is inclusive, and it ensures our rural and urban citizens have a choice in the creation of state law.”

At least one legislator said she opposes ballot initiatives outright. 

“I am opposed to ballot initiatives,” Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said. “Voting for this is a compromise for me because I believe that ballot initiatives are direct democracy and that is not what we have, we have a constitutional republic.”

Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said it doesn’t matter what legislators personally think about ballot initiatives. 

“Who cares?” Ruchti said. “It’s in the (Idaho) Constitution. It is a right of the people, clearly stated, unequivocal.” 

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said the bill would greatly limit residents’ voices by curtailing their ability to bring initiatives forward. 

“If y’all are afraid of what the people of Idaho want to do and what their agenda is and you feel it is important to block that, you may be in the wrong line of work,” Rubel told opponents of the bill.

Moments after the House passed the bill, organizers with grassroots group Reclaim Idaho announced they filed an initiative with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office to remove what it called restrictive signature gathering requirements in the event that SB 1110 becomes law. 

Reclaim Idaho is an advocacy group that was behind the successful Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which Idaho voters passed in November 2018. 

The bill is one of numerous bills Idaho legislators introduced this year that would change voting, election or ballot initiative procedures. Hundreds of such bills are being considered in statehouses across the country. 

For years the Idaho Legislature has pushed back against ballot initiatives. In 2002, for instance, the Legislature repealed term limits, which Idaho voters approved via a 1994 ballot initiative.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill that would have reduced the amount of time to gather signatures, but Little vetoed it.

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said there have been 14 ballot initiatives since 1992, six of which passed.

After a lengthy debate, the House passed the bill 51-18

The Senate passed the bill back on March 1.

Idaho abortion bill sent out for possible amendments

The Senate State Affairs Committee sent out an abortion bill for possible amendments after a long debate Wednesday morning. 

House Bill 220 would prevent state government contracts between abortion providers and or their affiliates.

Supporters said the bill is about preventing state tax dollars from supporting abortions. 

But several senators said the “affiliates” portion of the bill was poorly constructed and would prevent the state from entering into a contract with, for example, the same utility company that serves Planned Parenthood locations because of shared business dealings between Planned Parenthood and the utility.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, called the bill “boycott legislation.”

“We need to dial back the political temperature in this state, and taking hostages in the private sector is not the way to do it,” Burgoyne said.

It is unclear what the future holds for the bill. If it is called for amendments on the floor, any senator could offer any amendments for any reason. 

This was the second abortion bill the Legislature has considered in the two days since returning from a 17-day recess. On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1183, which would make it illegal to perform an abortion after a medical professional detects a heartbeat.