Capitol building (winter)

The Idaho Capitol building in downtown Boise pictured on Feb. 15.

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After two days of public testimony overwhelmingly opposed it, a Senate panel voted 6-3 Friday in favor of legislation to sharply increase the hurdles to qualify a voter initiative for the Idaho ballot. The bill, SB 1110, now moves to the full Senate; you can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Saturday's print edition of the Idaho Press.

At public hearings held Wednesday and Friday, 44 people from all over the state testified on the bill, nine for, 34 against, and one both for and against. On Friday alone, 23 people testified, nearly all remotely, with only three supporting the bill. Several threatened lawsuits in federal court if the bill becomes law.

“Having the Legislature pass a bill that takes our citizens’ rights away by making the process virtually impossible just does not seem right, in a state that values personal freedom,” said Brian Bledsoe of Post Falls.

Lauren Bramwell of the ACLU of Idaho said, “We urge you, members of the committee, to honor Idaho’s constitutional promise to its people and vote against legislation that will result in unnecessary litigation.”

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill’s lead sponsor, contended it would ensure rural voices are heard in the initiative process. The bill would require 6% of the signatures of qualified electors in each of all 35 legislative districts to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot; current law says 6% from 18 of the 35 districts, along with 6% of the total statewide.

Retired Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief was among those testifying against the bill on Friday. “There is simply no evidence that rural interests are under-represented in Idaho politics,” he told the senators. “For example, the governor is from Emmett, the Secretary of State is from Midvale, the superintendent of public instruction is from Mountain Home. The speaker of the House is from Oakley. The speaker before him was from Midvale. The speaker before him was from Burley.”

Moncrief said, “There is an issue in American politics, in states in particular, with the creation of legislative supermajorities.” Idaho’s supermajority Republican Party controls 80% of the Legislature, much higher than the number of Idahoans who vote for the party in elections. In November’s general election, for example, Republican Donald Trump won 63.8% of Idaho votes.

“This is true in almost all states,” Moncrief said, with the party that has the legislative majority over-represented compared to the electorate. “Supermajority parties occasionally misunderstand or misinterpret public opinion because they’re so large that that’s all they hear,” he said, saying that’s why the powers of initiative and referendum are so important.

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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