House committee advances bill prohibiting organizations, nonprofits from funding election work in Idaho

Bill banning signature gathering outside of Idaho for initiatives also advances

By: - April 13, 2021 5:44 pm
Idaho State Capitol building in Boise.

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The House State Affairs Committee has advanced a bill that would prohibit outside organizations from providing funding for elections in Idaho.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Senate Bill 1168 is necessary because of out-of-state grant funding that came into Idaho to support the 2020 elections. Souza said the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life provided election grants to 20 Idaho counties last year with money that was tied to a donation from Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. The nonprofit announced in September it had received a $250 million commitment from Zuckerberg and Chan.

Souza and several Republicans worried there could be strings attached to accepting the funding, worried that there was no accountability for the money and worried that counties could become dependent on the funding. 

“Do you sense the vulnerability here? Do you sense the possible insidious intrusion down the line?” Souza asked. 

Owyhee County Clerk Angela Barkell said the grant funding helped her office make sure the 2020 election went off without a hitch. Owyhee County uses only paper ballots, which all had to be hand-counted, she said. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county had a hard time finding poll workers to staff polling locations on Election Day. 

County officials also had to find new poll locations to allow workers and voters alike to maintain physical distance. Barkell said she would go home at night in tears worrying about the upcoming election, but the grant funding helped.

“I gave bonuses to poll workers,” Barkell said. “I used it to feed them, pay them, train them and it was great. It took some stress off of me.”

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said his office used the grant money to pay for personal protective equipment, to pay bonuses to poll workers and to buy equipment such as security cameras that were installed to allow the public to remotely watch elections workers safeguard and process the ballots. 

Still, McGrane said he understood why the Legislature would run the bill.

Kathy Dawes of the League of Women Voters of Idaho opposed the bill. She worried blocking funding from independent, nonpartisan nonprofits could hurt county clerks’ ability to obtain funds to ensure the accessibility of voting in Idaho.

In the end, the committee advanced the bill to the House floor on a voice vote. 

Senate Bill 1168 is one of several bills under consideration this session that would change elections, voting, initiatives or signature gathering procedures. 

The bill heads next to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. It passed the Senate 28-7 on March 18.

Bill banning signature gathering outside of Idaho advances

The House State Affairs Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would prohibit gathering signatures for ballot initiatives or referendum’s outside of Idaho.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 1150 would require people circulating petitions and gathering signatures to do so in Idaho.

The bill’s supporters said they want to block potential efforts to gather signatures for a possible marijuana initiative from Idahoans shopping at marijuana dispensaries located just across the state border in Oregon or Washington. 

“In all candor, we don’t think that it is good public policy to be going outside the state of Idaho to gather signatures,” said Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.

SB 1150 heads next to the House floor with a recommendation it passes. The bill already passed the Senate 28-6 on March 5.

Committee accepts amendments to bill limiting governor’s emergency powers

Finally, in other news from a busy Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee has concurred with Senate agreements to a bill that would limit the governor’s powers in an emergency.

House Bill 135 would make it so a governor could not extend an emergency order or disaster declaration beyond 60 days, except only to continue receiving federal funding or resources.  

Under the bill, all provisions of an emergency order would expire in 60 days (other than receiving federal funds or resources) unless the Legislature extends the emergency declaration for up to 60 days. 

The bill would also prevent a governor from working around the 60-day limit by issuing successive declarations for the same emergency. 

The Senate amendments that the committee agreed with prohibits restrictions on workers by job type or classification.

In March 2020, Gov. Brad Little signed an extreme disaster declaration that required Idahoans to stay home and isolate to fight the spread of the coronavirus. The stay-home order included exceptions for health care workers, first responders and essential workers, as defined by the state. 

One of the major themes of this legislative session has been legislators engaging in a power struggle, pushing back against the executive authority Little exercised as part of the state’s pandemic response. 

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.