The Idaho Senate 25-10 on March 11 to approve a measure that would change how initiatives make their way to statewide ballots.
The bill - it became law - would require signatures from 6 percent of the voters in each of 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts, instead of the 6 percent statewide.
"This is one small effort to try to get those signature-bearers to go out and income some of the rest of us," said Terreton Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway. "This allows rural Idaho to participate in this process."
But Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett said the bill would have the opposite effect.
"This absolutely harms rural voters more than those living in urban areas," said Stennett. "Now, an organization can focus all their efforts on finding the signatures they need in the Treasure Valley's 16 legislative districts and find two more legislative districts in urban areas such as Twin Falls, Idaho Falls or Coeur d'Alene to meet this higher threshold."
ORIGINAL POST: March 6, 2013
In a party-line vote this morning the Republican majority of the State Senate Affairs Committee approved a bill that would alter the way Idaho initiatives are put on general election ballots.
Traditionally petitions have required a percentage of the state's registered voters, but Senate Bill 1108 would parse that process out by requiring 6 percent of voters from each legislative district across the state.
"It’s been mentioned that perhaps there has not been an abuse of the system so far, but our members are keenly aware of the importance of the old adage that 'it’s always important to close the barn door before the horse gets out,'” sponsor Russ Hendricks, Southwest Idaho Regional Manager of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation told lawmakers this morning.
Opponents of the measure argue that the new structure tips the balance against urban areas, in opposition to how other general elections are conducted. However supporters disagreed, saying that the bill would in reality right the scales toward rural Idaho.
"The point is, to be succesful with this, you are not going to get those signatures sitting at Costco in Boise, you have to get out, and you have to get all over the state," former Sen. Bert Marley, now with the Idaho Education Association told the committee.
Marley referenced the successful campaign to place Props 1, 2 and 3 on the ballot to reject education reforms dubbed the "Luna Laws," stating that the process "had not been abused." In response to Marley's testimony, Rexburg Republican Sen. Brent Hill asked about charges that Senate bill 1108 was in "retribution" for the successful school referendum campaign.
"There are many of us who have worked very, very hard to make sure there were no vindictive actions in response to that intiative process," Hill told Marley. "No matter how we vote, it’s not an act of retribution in any sense."
Before voting, the committee debated the provisions of the measure and whether or it placed undue burden on the process. Terreton Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway made clear his reasons for voting "yes" were not related to the "Vote No" campaign.
"You know, I just want this on the record, as least as far as I’m concerned, this has nothign to do with Props 1, 2 and 3, that came before the people that spoke, but I’m past that, I’m gone. But this does have to do with issues to me, like the cannabis issue, and the animal rights and animal cruelty issues we’re threatened with on an annual basis. This has to do with me, in treating all voters in the same issue with the same rights, in treating folks in downtown Mud Lake the same as downtown over here," said Siddoway.
But the legislature has options even if voters pass a ballot measure, said Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk, and in addition Idaho voters overall are given the chance to reject any initiative or referenda, no matter what groups might place on the ballot.
"The reality is that if an outside entity came with some animal rights initiative that made it almost impossible for us to enjoy the unique kind of livings that we make here in Idaho associated with livestock, the reality is the legislature would have the capability of altering or repealing that to make sure Idaho stays in business," Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk said.
Werk said Idaho voters have the ability to separate "the wheat from the chaff" in choosing which successful ballot measures should become law.
Ultimately, Werk joined Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett in providing the only votes against the measure. The bill now moves to the Senate floor.