By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Senate passed a resolution in a 27-8 vote Monday asking voters to amend the Idaho Constitution and make it harder to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot.
Only one Republican, Sen. Geoff Schroeder of Mountain Home, sided with Democrats in voting against the resolution.
Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, pitched Senate Joint Resolution 101. The resolution comes after a similar policy Idaho legislators passed in 2021, Senate Bill 1110, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court. That law would have increased the number of legislative districts needed to qualify an initiative to all 35 districts, rather than 18 districts as currently required.
Okuniewicz said the court determined the Legislature can’t make this kind of change to the initiative requirements, but the people can.
“In 2021, the Legislature overwhelmingly decided that this was a good idea,” Okuniewicz said. “All we’re doing today is voting to let the people decide whether they agree.”
If the resolution also passes the House, the ballot question would ask voters in November to amend the constitution to require signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 legislative districts.
The only initiative in recent years to make it on the ballot and pass into law was Medicaid Expansion in 2018. The advocacy group Reclaim Idaho also collected enough signatures in 2022 to get an education funding initiative on the ballot, but removed it after the Legislature appropriated $330 million in public school funding during its September special session.
The Senate debated the resolution for about 45 minutes.
“I like the idea that we are allowing the citizens of Idaho to make this choice,” said Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg.
Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, criticized the resolution, saying if it passes, one county would have veto power over whether an initiative makes it on the ballot. She focused on the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling that the people’s right to legislate through the initiative process is a fundamental right.
“I believe as senators we have the duty to protect fundamental rights, to safeguard them for the people,” Wintrow said. “By placing this question on the ballot so people can decide, I believe, is a dereliction of our duty to protect because of the risk involved.”
Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, supported the resolution because she believes initiatives should require signatures from all 35 districts.
“Our most rural districts are left out of the process and don’t have that seat at the table,” Nichols said.
With Schroeder’s “no” vote, he noted that a constitutional amendment requires two-thirds majority vote from each chamber to reach the ballot, while the resolution would require support for an initiative from all 35 districts.
“I just find it curious that, for something as serious as amending the constitution, it only requires the acquiescence of 24 of 35 legislative districts in this body. And yet for something as in this legislation’s constitutional amendment, we’d require all 35,” said Schroeder.
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville issued the following statement following the resolution’s passage:
“This bill is an attack on the rights of every Idaho citizen,” wrote Mayville. “Under this proposal, citizens who want to place a referendum on the ballot would have to collect signatures from 6% of voters in all 35 of Idaho’s districts in just 60 days. That’s impossible. Requiring citizens to clear such a high threshold is nothing other than an attempt to silence Idaho voters.”