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GOP senators broke rank to vote against Idaho’s ‘ballot bill,’ but it narrowly passed

Idaho

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The Idaho Senate, pictured in this file photo, at the Statehouse in Boise. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — By just one vote, the Idaho Senate passed a bill that would make Idaho one of the toughest states in the nation to get a citizen initiative on the ballot.

Ten Republicans broke rank and joined the Senate’s seven Democrats in opposing the bill, which passed on Friday in an 18-17 vote.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, said the bill is needed because citizens want the initiative process changed to better reflect rural Idaho. He also said his bill is “preventative” in that will ensure Idaho does not become like California, which had a plethora of citizen initiatives on the ballot last year.

Grow’s bill makes four significant changes to the current law to get a citizen initiative or referendum on the ballot by requiring those seeking ballot initiatives to get signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in 32 of Idaho’s 35 districts, compared to the current rules that require signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 districts; reducing the time allowed to gather the signatures from 18 months to six months; and requiring a fiscal statement indicating how much it will cost to implement the initiative and how it will be funded.

The bill also includes an emergency clause making the legislation effective upon passage.

No changes would be made to the requirements for passage of an initiative in the general election, which is a simple majority.

The four new requirements would make Idaho’s process the most restrictive in the country.

Republican Sens. Lori Den Hartog, of Meridian, and Jeff Agenbroad, of Nampa, both said they support requiring a fiscal note and making other changes to the initiative process, but the bill’s four changes all together go “too far,” which is why they voted no.

Inkom Republican Sen. Jim Guthrie also voted against the bill saying it is a legislative attempt to usurp power from Idaho citizens.

“The three branches of government we always talk about are executive, legislative and judicial,” he said. “Lost in the discussion is the most important branch. That’s our citizens. Keep in mind senators, without them there is no us.”

Guthrie told the Senate he has his cellphone set to vibrate whenever he gets an email.

“Last night I had mine on my nightstand and it was vibrating to the point I thought I had a rattlesnake in my room. I finally had to set it down on the floor,” he said, noting the barrage of vibrating email notifications continued through Friday morning.

“I don’t have to tell you what the issue was, senators,” he said. “Not one email from a private citizen spoke in favor of senate bill 1159. These were heartfelt emails from many, many citizens. If so many everyday citizens want this bill where are they? They certainly are not calling, they are not emailing. They have not been at the Capitol.”

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Winder, who supports the bill, said he disagrees that it takes away citizens’ constitutional rights to bring forth initiatives and referendums.

“I want to remind the body that the Idaho Constitution actually gives ultimate authority to the Legislature to deal with initiatives,” he said.

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg said he wants to ensure rural voters are not overshadowed by urban ones.

“I really like Boise. I like spending three months of my year here. … This whole Treasure Valley is beautiful and it is full of good people,” Hill said. “But I have long been concerned about the dwindling influence of rural Idaho, particularly when it applies to the initiative process.”

How the Senate voted:

Yes: Sens. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley; Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot; Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; Scott Grow, R-Eagle; Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs; Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls; Jim Rice, R-Nampa; Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene; Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; and Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

No: Sens. Jeff Agenbroad R-Nampa; Regina Bayer R-Meridian; Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Cherie Buckner-Webb via Christopher Mathias, D-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; Carl Crabtree R-Grangeville; Lori Den Hartog R-Meridian; Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom; Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise; Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls; Fred Martin, R-Boise; David Nelson, D-Moscow; Mark Nye, D-Pocatello; Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum; Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise; and Jim Woodward, R-Sagle.

This article was originally published in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.

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