Vick screenshot 2-19-21

Sen. Steve Vick addresses the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

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The Senate State Affairs Committee has voted in favor of SB 1110, to sharply increase the hurdles to qualify a voter initiative for the Idaho ballot, after two days of hearings that drew overwhelmingly negative testimony. The bill now moves to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Over two days of hearings, 44 people testified on the bill, nine for, 34 against, and one both for and against.

“We need to make sure there’s equity of representation throughout the state,” said Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, speaking out against the bill, said, “We do have a constitutional right to vote on initiatives under the Idaho Constitution, so when we make administrative requirements too onerous, we are violating that constitutional right.” Burgoyne, an attorney, said, “That would be a reasonable challenge and an arguable case.”

He also expressed concern that backers of the bill are discounting the views of his constituents simply because they live in an urban part of the state, and he said they have the same rights as anyone living anywhere in the state. Burgoyne said he hoped never to see people expressing “disdain for the people who live in my community.” He said, “The fact is that agrarian interests in Idaho are over-represented when we look at our population.”

“There are many people in this building who are working to pull us together, not push us apart," Burgoyne said, "and this doesn’t help.” He then moved to hold SB 1110 in committee, killing it; Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, seconded the motion.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, then made a substitute motion to send the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” He noted that he opposed SB 1159 last year, the vetoed bill that would have required signatures from 10% of qualified electors in 32 districts. “I think it’s a good compromise to what I was opposed to a couple years ago, and I’m going to support the bill,” he said.

Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, said, “Moving from the 18 to 35 districts, it increases the involvement of the electorate. It lets people know what’s going to be on the ballot. I think that’s a good thing.”

Stennett said, “There were eight districts that did not qualify for Medicaid expansion in the signature-gathering, and therefore would not have gone to the ballot, with this rigor.” Yet, she said, almost all those areas voted in favor of the initiative in the general election. “With this bill nothing would get passed, and that would silence the vote of the people,” Stennett said.

The motion passed on a divided voice vote. Three committee members, Sens. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Stennett; and Burgoyne; asked to be recorded as voting "no." That means the bill cleared the committee on a 6-3 vote.

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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