Steve Vick

Steve Vick

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Idaho lawmakers are again taking aim at the state’s ballot initiative process, with a Senate committee introducing a new bill this morning to make it much, much harder to qualify any voter initiative for the Idaho ballot. The bill, proposed by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, contains an emergency clause making it effective immediately upon passage; it would require signatures of at least 6% of qualified electors in all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts. Current law requires 6% of qualified electors statewide, as of the last general election, plus, within that, 6% from 18 of the 35 legislative districts.

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“I grew up in a rural area of Montana,” Vick told the Senate State Affairs Committee. He said he wants to make sure rural concerns are represented in the initiative process. “I think the risk of having broad support for an initiative is worthwhile, and that we don’t forget some of those people,” Vick said. “The population centers, currently you can get signatures for 18 districts in just four counties. There’s 44 counties in the state and I think it needs to be a little more diversified than that.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, moved to introduce the bill, and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, seconded the motion. It carried on a divided voice vote, clearing the way for a full hearing.

Vick is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene.

The bill’s Statement of Purpose says, “The purpose of this legislation is to increase voter involvement and inclusivity in the voter initiative/referendum process. This will be accomplished by ensuring signatures are gathered from each of the 35 legislative districts, so every part of Idaho is included in this process.”

In 2019, after Idaho voters in 2018 strongly supported and passed a Medicaid expansion initiative that many GOP lawmakers opposed, the Legislature passed SB 1159, which sought to increase hurdles for voter initiatives by requiring signatures from 10% of voters in 32 of the 35 legislative districts, cut the signature gathering-time period from 18 months to six months, and make other changes. The bill, proposed by Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, passed both houses narrowly, 40-30 in the House and 18-17 in the Senate, but drew widespread, bipartisan condemnation across the state, including from former top state officials, retired judges, professors, business leaders, health advocates and everyday citizens. Gov. Brad Little vetoed it.

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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