Voting Ada County

Voters cast ballots on Election Day in Boise, on Nov. 6, 2018.

BOISE — The Idaho Attorney General’s office has completed certificates of review that give the legal green light to several versions of a proposed minimum wage initiative but raise legal questions about a proposed medical marijuana initiative.

Both are proposed initiatives for the Idaho ballot in the November 2020 general election. The reviews are required before the initiative sponsors can begin collecting signatures to attempt to qualify the measures for the ballot.

The minimum wage initiative would increase Idaho’s current $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $8.75 on June 1, 2021; to $9.75 a year later; to $10.75 a year after that; and to $12 an hour on June 1, 2024. Thereafter, it would require Idaho’s minimum wage to be indexed to the consumer price index, and rise when the cost of living rises.

The measure also would eliminate Idaho’s current “training wage” for people under 20 years old during their first 90 days of employment, which is now just $4.25 per hour; and raise the minimum for tipped employees. One version of the initiative also would expressly allow Idaho cities and counties to set higher minimum wages than the state wage; another version leaves that provision out.

Deputy Attorney General Douglas A. Werth wrote in the legal analysis that while Idaho currently ties its minimum wage to the federal minimum, there’s nothing to prevent the state from exceeding that. “In fact, currently 31 states have minimum wage rates that are higher,” Werth wrote.

The provisions of the proposed minimum wage initiatives “all appear to be proper subjects of legislation,” Werth concluded.

The proposed medical marijuana initiative drew a much lengthier and more critical certificate of review, which pointed to numerous legal and technical issues regarding the initiative’s provisions.

Among them: Because the initiative seeks to both set up a system of legal medical marijuana in Idaho, and to legalize industrial hemp, it likely would violate the Idaho Constitution’s existing single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Deputy Attorney General John McKinney wrote that Article 20, Section 2 of the Idaho Constitution states, "If two (2) or more amendments are proposed, they shall be submitted in such manner that the electors shall vote for or against each of them separately.”

McKinney also raised concerns over numerous provisions in the initiative which he said could be challenged as unconstitutionally vague; and noted that even if Idaho were to legalize medical marijuana, it would remain illegal under federal law.

The medical marijuana initiative would decriminalize under state law the possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana for registered patients with a specified “debilitating medical condition,” from cancer to chronic pain. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law, and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment.

Attorney general’s reviews are advisory; initiative sponsors can make changes in their measures based on the advice, or choose not to, before proceeding with gathering signatures. Sponsors of both measures didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday.

For either of the measures to make the 2020 Idaho ballot, its backers would need to collect signatures of 55,057 registered voters — 6% of those who were registered to vote in the November 2018 election — including 6% of the registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, according to the Idaho Secretary of State's office. The signatures would be due by April 30, 2020.

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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