Mary Souza Reclaim Idaho town hall

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, left, along with other local lawmakers, talks with citizens at a town hall meeting on Idaho's citizen initiative laws in Coeur d'Alene on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.

A lively crowd of more than 160 packed the Coeur d’Alene Library’s community room last night for a town hall meeting on Idaho’s citizen initiative laws, the Coeur d’Alene Press reports today, at which speakers included Reclaim Idaho officials, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones, and all three GOP legislators from Coeur d’Alene. Two of those lawmakers, Reps. Paul Amador and Jim Addis, voted against SB 1159, the vetoed bill to sharply limit citizen initiatives in Idaho; the third, Sen. Mary Souza, voted in favor of it.

“I think we all recognize the citizens’ process is an important one in Idaho,” Amador told the crowd, “but it’s not something we want to see abused.”

Reclaim Idaho CdA town hall

Souza said she wants more information provided to voters who are signing or voting on initiatives, including two items that lawmakers see on every bill: A statement of purpose and a fiscal impact statement. She also called for notice to voters that the initiative, if successful, will bypass the Legislature and governor.

Reclaim Idaho is the group that spearheaded the successful Medicaid expansion initiative, which Idaho voters passed in November with 61 percent support. Months later, lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to make it much harder to qualify an initiative for the Idaho ballot; legislation passed both houses, but was vetoed by GOP Gov. Brad Little. Reclaim Idaho is holding a series of town hall meetings around the state on Idaho’s initiative laws, inviting people on all sides to turn out.

Jones, whom the Coeur d’Alene Press reported received “thunderous applause,” told the standing-room-only crowd, “I’m the kind of person who believes in constitutions. I believe in the notion that all political power is inherent in the people … If you restrict initiatives so people can’t use their rights, all the power will eventually reside in the Legislature. I believe very strongly in citizens having their initiative rights … The initiative process needs to be fair for all and accessible to all.”

Addis told the meeting, “If (the process) can be improved we should improve it. If it can’t, we should leave it alone.”

At a separate town hall meeting organized by the House GOP leadership in Twin Falls last week, GOP legislators expressed interest in bringing the bill back in the coming session, according to the Twin Falls Times-News.

Among those in the crowd at the Coeur d’Alene meeting was Idaho Freedom Foundation board Chairman Brent Regan; the IFF unsuccessfully sued to block the Medicaid expansion initiative after voters passed it. Regan stood in the back and made no public statement.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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