Senate gallery crowd

Crowd in the Idaho Senate gallery on Friday, March 22, 2019

More from today’s Senate debate on SB 1159, the bill to make it much harder to qualify an initiative or referendum for the Idaho ballot:

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, the Senate’s minority leader, said, “If we want everyone to participate, we ... have to have more time so that we can reach all of our rural areas.” Under the bill, she said, “Only 8.4 percent of Idaho’s population could have veto power on a ballot initiative. ... That is a severe infringement on the one-person one-vote,” in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. “The voters lose their fundamental right … at some point,” Stennett said. “Unfortunately, if this passes, they would be muzzled twice. Because not only would they have a much more difficult time to tell us what we needed to do … as far as good policy … they’d also be paying for taxpayer dollars to fight it in court.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, the Senate’s majority leader, said he actually thought Medicaid expansion was a “no-brainer,” but lawmakers weren’t able to pass it for six years, in part because constituents pressured them to resist “Obamacare.” “I would submit to you this is about money, and the people have found a way to vote themselves into the treasury,” Winder declared. “I believe our Constitution was put in place to protect the minority’s rights, and I would urge your support on this even though it’s a very, very difficult issue.”

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, told the Senate that when there are controversial issues, lawmakers always hear from both sides. But on this one, she said, “There has not been a single citizen that has contacted us and told us that they supported this bill.” She said lawmakers accept the will of the voters at every election, when they’re elected to office. “We have never discussed changing the percentages by which a legislator needs to be elected or anything else. This is already a high bar for citizens, one of the highest in the country already. And I don’t see the need to make it more difficult for our citizens to engage.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “My touchstone for how I vote is not the emails I get. Most of the people in my district are working hard during the day. I talk to them on the weekends, usually in private conversations at church. I don’t just attend the church that I belong to, I make it a point to attend other churches in my district, and not just the LDS churches, I attend the Baptist churches, other churches, because what I have learned as I have served is most of my voters in my district prefer to have a private conversation directly with me. I’ve had those in restaurants and grocery stores, parks, all sorts of places. What I can tell you is that I do have constituents that support this.” He said he thought it would be of particular value to have an objective fiscal note providing information about costs attached to voter initiatives. "What I do see with this is a bill that is actually wise," he said.

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.

Load comments