By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday held a resolution, subject to call of the chairman, that would ask voters to amend the Idaho Constitution and make it harder to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot.
The resolution comes after a similar piece of legislation 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.
SJR 101 would ask voters if they want to amend the Idaho Constitution to require signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 legislative districts to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot. It passed the Senate in a 27-8 vote and is sponsored by Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden.
The committee heard testimony from more than 20 people in opposition to the bill. Many who spoke were involved in signature gathering for Reclaim Idaho, an advocacy group that successfully placed Medicaid Expansion on the ballot in 2018 and more recently an education funding act that was preempted by lawmakers in the September special session.
Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, made the motion to hold the resolution in committee at the call of the chair. The committee supported the motion, which would allow Chairman Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, to bring the resolution back for another hearing.
Holtzclaw did not offer an explanation on why he made the motion, and Okuniewicz told Idaho Reports after the hearing that he was unsure what the committee took issue with.
Several testifiers argued that the bill would allow one district to veto an idea and stop it from reaching the ballot. Okuniewicz argued that if an initiative was truly grassroots, signatures could be found.
“This would be an attack on the initiative and referendum process, which is one important avenue for the voices of the voters of Idaho,” Bron Roberts of Boise said. “Idaho has one of the most difficult requirements for getting an initiative on the ballots. Why is it necessary to substantially increase the hurdles to the initiative and referendum process? Is it to silence the voters of Idaho?”
Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, took issue with the timeframe required in the resolution.
“SJR 101 would force citizens to organize signature drives in 35 different districts, and to complete all 35 of those signature drives in just 60 days,” Mayville said.
He argued that the right for Idaho citizens to organize initiatives is a fundamental right.
“You would never consider putting freedom of speech on the ballot,” Mayville said. “You’d never consider putting the freedom of religion on the ballot. You’d be right not to consider it, because it is wrong to ask the voters to give up their own rights.”
Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, pressed Mayville on whether he thought he represented most Idahoans. Mayville again argued fundamental rights should not be on the ballot.
“If this amendment appears on the ballot, I believe it will not only be defeated, I believe it will be defeated in all 44 counties,” Mayville said. “I believe it will be embarrassing and shameful for all the legislators who voted for it.”
The resolution could still be brought back before the committee, should the chairman decide to do so.