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Idaho House panel OKs bill to make ballot measures tougher

Opponents say the measure would make it nearly impossible to get an initiative on the ballot.

BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho House panel has approved legislation making it more difficult to get initiatives or referendums on ballots in what is seen as a rural vs. urban issue. 

The House State Affairs Committee sent the measure to the House. It's already passed the state Senate. 

Republican Gov. Brad Little vetoed similar legislation in 2019 and hasn't said if he would sign the measure if it reaches his desk. 

Backers say the current process favors urban voters. 

Opponents say the measure would make it nearly impossible to get an initiative on the ballot.

The proposed law would require the signatures of 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho districts.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill's sponsor, said the bill does not increase the number of signatures needed, but required that signatures come from every district in the state, which he feels gives rural Idahoans a voice in the process.

Those opposed to the bill feel it gives rural districts more weight by allowing just one district to veto a proposed initiative.

During testimony on Monday morning, Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked Vick how many initiatives have made the ballot in the last 25 years. Vick said he was unsure.

"I was just thinking that that would be an important fact to know as to whether we have a problem or not with the initiative process," Gannon said. 

Since 1996, there have been ten voter initiatives and four referendums that have made it on the Idaho ballot. Of those, three initiatives passed: Medicaid expansion in 2018, Idaho's state-tribal gaming compact in 2002, and a Congressional term limits pledge in 1998, which was repealed four years later.

There have been 37 total voter initiatives and referendums brought forth to the Idaho Legislature since they became legal in 1933. 30 voter-started initiatives and seven referendums. Of those, 17 were made into law and still stand today, including establishing a state lottery commission and retaining Idaho's "Right to Work" law.

37 initiatives in the last 84 years average out to about one every two years, which is one of the reasons 97 people signed up to testify on Monday. However, only 24 were actually allowed to speak for time purposes.

17 people were against the bill, and seven were in favor.

The committee voted along party lines 12-2 to advance the bill to the House floor. Should it pass the House, it would go to Gov. Little's desk for his signature. Should he sign it, it would go into effect immediately. 

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