C. Scott Grow

C. Scott Grow

Legislation to make it much harder to qualify a voter initiative for the ballot was introduced this morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee, at the behest of freshman Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle. “Both the referendum and the initiative process are the right of the people as may be provided by acts of the Legislature,” Grow told the committee. “So this law is consistent with our legislative responsibility to continually review and make sure that this is an appropriate process for folks.”

His bill would up the signature requirements for an initiative or referendum to make the ballot from 6 percent of the voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, to 10 percent of the voters in 32 of the 35 legislative districts. In addition, the bill would apply a series of new requirements to voter ballot measures, including following a single-subject rule, including a fiscal impact statement, proposing a funding source, and having an effective date of no sooner than July 1 following the vote approving the measure. You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Tuesday's Idaho Press.

Grow said the changes would mean more work for county clerks who verify signatures, who might have to hire extra help.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, asked Grow, “You had mentioned that this is a broadening of the initiative process for more voters to get participating, but it sounds like it has got much more rigor, requires much more signature gathering and much more reporting about how one goes about it, and it’s also burdening the clerks, and we’re going to be giving them campaign finance reform work as well. So can you tell me why you think this is better?”

“The actual voting of the electorate is unchanged,” Grow responded, “so that’s still the general election, 50 percent plus one person vote. Nothing is changed as far as the election itself. This is involving more in the gathering of signatures. Here’s the problem: Right now you’ve got four counties that can meet the current standard, Ada, Canyon, Bonneville and Kootenai. So if a proponent works just in those four counties they can get it on the ballot, ignores all of our rural districts. So the effort here is to allow the rural districts to also be involved in the process and not just have the cities dictate what’s happening.”

The committee voted to introduce the bill on a voice vote; that clears the way for a possible full hearing on the measure, which now will be assigned a bill number when it’s read across the desk in the full Senate.

Luke Mayville, the Idaho political scientist who co-founded “Reclaim Idaho” and pushed to qualify the successful Medicaid expansion for the ballot as Proposition 2 in November, said in an interview, “The proposed bill would make it nearly impossible for Idahoans to exercise their right to initiate laws.” He added, “I did some digging this morning. Of the 26 states where citizens have the right to initiate laws, Idaho would become the state where it is most difficult to exercise that right.”

Grow’s district actually isn’t in rural Idaho; he represents District 14 in Ada County, which includes Eagle, the wealthy and fast-growing suburb of Boise. That district voted 56.4 percent in favor of Proposition 2 in November.

The Idaho Constitution, in Article III, provides for the initiative and referendum. It says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”

“Overall, I see this as a power grab by politicians,” Mayville said. “It’s a power grab by politicians who think that they’re the only ones qualified to propose laws. … We’re hopeful that the majority of legislators have enough respect for the Idaho Constitution to reject the proposal.”

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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