Idaho Senate sends ballot initiative bill to governor

Idaho Governor Brad Little will consider two pieces of legislation that would dramatically toughen the requirements to get an initiative or referendum on the state ballot.

Following a public outcry, the Senate voted 20-15 to approve legislation Wednesday softening requirements of another ballot initiative bill. Both bills have now passed both chambers.

The first piece of legislation cleared both chambers last month and requires signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in 32 of 35 districts in six months. It also requires a fiscal note and possible funding source for the proposed law.

Opponents say those rules make the ballot initiative impossible and violate the Idaho Constitution.

The second bill requires signatures from 24 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts in nine months. It also requires 10 percent of registered voters and a funding source.

Current rules require signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 districts in 18 months.

The plan among lawmakers in leadership in the House and Senate is to have Little, a Republican, sign both the original and follow-up bill. The language in the second bill softening ballot initiative requirements would replace the language in the original bill.

The ballot initiatives bills have become some of the most contentious legislation this session. They are seen as a reaction by lawmakers to the Medicaid expansion passed by voters in November with 61 percent of the vote following years of inaction by the Legislature. The federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost, but Idaho still has to come up with 20 million dollars and lawmakers have been fighting over how to do that.

Backers of the legislation say it’s needed to give rural voters an equal voice due to information technology and social media that will increasingly allow initiative backers to target growing population centers where groups supporting particular issues live. Supporters say that signatures in just four highly populated areas can get an initiative on the ballot.

Backers of making ballot initiatives tougher, particularly in the Republican-dominated Legislature, say it’s reasonable to make sure more signatures must be collected from rural areas so that initiatives that make the ballot are something voters across the state truly want.

But opponents of both the original and trailer bill say it will make ballot initiatives nearly impossible. Opponents also say the 10 percent of registered voters rather than 10 percent of voters who voted in the last election is too high a requirement.  (AP)