Legal fees over ballot initiative bill will cost taxpayers over $150,000

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

After a citizen’s advocacy group prevailed at the Idaho Supreme Court this year, Idaho taxpayers will pick up the tab for legal fees.

The Constitutional Defense Council met Monday to discuss approving funding for the legal expenses accrued after they lost a lawsuit revolving around a ballot initiative bill that passed in 2021. 

Reclaim Idaho asked the court to strike down Senate Bill 1110 and in August the Idaho Supreme Court deemed the bill unconstitutional.

The litigation racked up a tab of $151,866 for legal fees on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court determined that the state should pay the legal fees of Reclaim Idaho and Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, the plaintiffs in the case.

The Council voted unanimously to pay the fees. That expense does not include the bills accrued by the state defending the bill that was being challenged, which will also be paid for through taxpayer money.

The Secretary of State was defended by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. The Legislature was defended by a private law firm.

The bill in the lawsuit, which Gov. Brad Little signed, increased the number of legislative districts that initiative organizers would need to qualify an initiative. An initiative would need signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 districts, rather than 18 districts as previously required. 

In the Supreme Court’s opinion, it stressed the right for citizens to legislate outside of the Legislature, through referendums. 

“The SOS and Legislature’s perspective—that the legislature has the authority to limit the people’s initiative and referendum rights, even to the point of near extinction—is simply not supported by the straightforward reservation of a portion of the total legislative power to the people in the Idaho Constitution,” the court wrote.

The decision shot down SB1110, reverting Idaho back to the initiative rules previously in Idaho law.

The Constitutional Defense Council is made up of the governor, the attorney general, the Senate pro tempore and the House speaker. The council followed the recommendation of the Idaho Board of Examiners to approve the spending.

The council’s purpose is to continue “restoring, maintaining and advancing the sovereignty and authority over issues that affect this state and the well-being of its citizens,” according to Idaho law.

Paul Headlee, of the Legislative Services Office, told Idaho Reports on Monday that the fund is continuously appropriated and currently has a $1.28 million balance. 

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