EAGLE — Although Idaho Gov. Brad Little vetoed two bills this year that would have increased restrictions on ballot initiatives, Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said legislators will likely bring a new bill back in the 2020 legislative session.
“It is clear that there are legislators that intend to bring it back,” he said.
Reclaim Idaho is a lobbying group that helped pass a Medicaid expansion last year through a citizen-led ballot initiative. Members also lobbied against changing the initiative procedure in the latest legislative session.
The first bill Little vetoed, Senate Bill 1159, would have raised the thresholds from 6% of registered voters’ signatures in 18 of 35 legislative districts to 10% in 32 of 35 districts. It would have cut the amount of time to gather signatures from 18 months to about six months. Mayville said this would have made Idaho have the strictest law on ballot initiatives in the country.
The second bill, House Bill 296, would have set the threshold at 10% of signatures in two-thirds of the state’s districts and would have set the gathering time at nine months.
Reclaim Idaho has been holding town halls across the state to gather input from Idaho residents about what they think of the state’s ballot initiative process. So far, they have held town halls in Idaho Falls, Boise, Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls.
Their final town hall was held at the Eagle Public Library Thursday night, attended by about 50 people. Mayville said over the series of events, over 500 Idaho residents attended, and even more participated through a livestream of the discussion.
Three Democratic lawmakers from Boise — Reps. Melissa Wintrow, Steve Berch and Sue Chew — attended the town hall.
Mayville said the three legislators representing District 14, which includes Eagle, could not attend; they are Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star; Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle; and Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. All three voted in support of Senate Bill 1159, and Grow was the bill’s sponsor.
Reclaim Idaho communications director Jeremy Gugino said 15 Republican legislators attended the other town halls, along with two other Democratic legislators, not including the three in attendance Thursday.
The town hall featured two speakers who argued for and against ballot initiative restrictions. Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones spoke against restrictions, and Gugino spoke on behalf of those in support of restrictions, since no one else could make it. Mayville said most of the views Gugino expressed he likely did not believe.
Jones said in the 107 years the Idaho Constitution has allowed ballot initiatives, the citizens have not abused the power. He said some of the most helpful laws Idaho currently has are because of ballot initiatives, including Medicaid expansion.
“Our legislature wouldn’t do anything about it,” Jones said.
Jones argued that a bill to restrict ballot initiatives is the legislature’s effort to take power away from the citizens; Gugino countered that meeting a higher threshold is much easier now that technology has advanced. Gugino said Proposition One, on horse race betting, got enough signatures to get on the ballot in three months, and Reclaim Idaho got enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in four-and-a-half months.
Gugino posed the argument that Idaho’s current law diminishes rural votes. He said it only took five of Idaho’s most populous county and one small county to get enough votes to pass Medicaid expansion. Even if the rest of the smaller rural counties unanimously voted against it, it wouldn’t matter. Increasing the threshold would help ensure every Idahoan had their constitutional right, according to an argument in support of more restrictions.
Berch pointed out that 29 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts passed Medicaid expansion — many of which were in rural counties. If stricter ballot initiative laws were passed, it would make initiatives harder to get on the ballot, which would diminish people’s voices, he said.
Jones added, “The Constitution doesn’t give political power to the counties. It gives it to the people.”
The town hall allowed time for public comment and questions. Many attendees expressed concern that Idaho was becoming more like California, but others pointed out that Idaho’s public structure was very different from California’s.
Attendee Vickie Louie said once an initiative is on the ballot, it’s voted on by all registered voters in the state, which gives every resident an equal vote.
“If every registered voter has the opportunity to vote on it, why do we need to make the signature process so restrictive?” Louie asked.
Jones said he believes that most legislators doubt the intelligence of the voters, and don’t trust voters to make a smart decision. However, he said he saw several legislators who supported Senate Bill 1159 at previous town halls who didn’t seem to understand what the bill would do.
If the voters pass an initiative that isn’t smart, Jones said, the legislature can repeal or amend it in the following session.
“It’s no harm, no foul,” he said.