Idaho governor signs into law legislation to raise bar on ballot initiatives

Bill requires organizers to gather signatures from 6% of voters in all 35 legislative districts

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise
The Idaho Senate abruptly called for a second recess of the year late Wednesday morning, guaranteeing the 2021 session will become the longest of the past 10 years. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Gov. Brad Little has signed into law a bill that would change the requirements for gathering signatures to bring a ballot initiative forward to Idaho voters.

Little confirmed he signed Senate Bill 1110 on Saturday in a letter to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who presides over the Idaho Senate.

The bill requires organizers of a ballot initiative to gather 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. 

In the letter, Little said his reason for signing it was that he believes in the bill’s intent to reach rural communities and allow every voter across the state to have the opportunity to decide whether a question is placed on the ballot. He acknowledged the bill may go too far in the limits it places on signature gathering, but said that is ultimately up to the courts to decide.

Supporters of the law say it is necessary to make sure voters from rural and remote areas of the state have a say in the initiative or referendum process.

“It is inclusive, and it ensures our rural and urban citizens have a choice in the creation of law,” Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene, said earlier this month.

One legislator said she flat out doesn’t approve of resident-driven initiatives, despite the fact the Idaho Constitution gives residents that right.

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

But opponents said the bill would limit voters’ ability to bring an initiative forward and that it silences their voices.

“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,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said April 7.

The bill passed the House 51-18 and cleared the Senate 26-9. 

On April 8, Jim Jones, a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice, delivered a petition to Little with 16,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill.

“People are concerned about Senate Bill 1110, which would make it almost impossible to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot,” Jones said during an April 8 Statehouse press conference.

Reclaim Idaho, the organization that led the ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho in 2018, filed an initiative earlier this month with the Idaho Secretary of State that would preserve the traditional signature requirements for ballot initiatives in the state. The initiative will move forward if court challenges to the newly signed law are unsuccessful. 

Bill signing is a victory for the Legislature 

The Idaho Legislature has a decades-long history of pushing back against citizen ballot initiatives. 

In 2002, the Legislature repealed term limits for elected officials, which voters had passed via a 1994 ballot initiative. 

In 2019, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1159, which would have cut the time available for signature gathering and increased the number of legislative districts from which signatures were required. However, Little vetoed that bill.

Most bills that are signed into law take effect on July 1, the first day of the state’s new fiscal year. But the sponsors of Senate Bill 1110 included an emergency clause that made this bill effective immediately. 

Letter
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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun, he covered every Idaho legislative session from 2011-2020 gavel-to-gavel, first for the Idaho Falls Post Register and most recently with 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. Prior to moving to Idaho, he worked for a family of small weekly newspapers covering the Kansas City area, where he was born and raised. Corbin is based in Boise and enjoys skiing, mountain climbing, traveling, scuba diving and listening to live music.
Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press. She has covered city and county government, crime and courts, education and the Idaho Legislature. She has received awards from the Idaho Press Club for her reporting on the aftermath of a $4.5 million budget shortfall at Nampa School District, as well as her reporting on campaign finance. Her specialty is reporting complex subjects related to fiscal policy in a straightforward, understandable way. Born and raised in Boise, Moseley-Morris lives with her husband, their daughter, and a silly dog named Olive in Meridian. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to new places, mostly for the food.