Three Idaho Republican lawmakers crossed the aisle to join seven Democratic senators March 11, but they failed to put a roadblock--let alone a speed bump--in the path of a fast-moving measure that will drastically change how ballot initiatives are put before Idaho voters.
"[This bill] should be called the state legislature monopolist act," said Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst. "This will erect barriers to legislative oversight that the Idaho Constitution never contemplated. And it certainly violates the spirit of the Constitution."
If and when Senate Bill 1108 becomes law, signatures must be gathered from 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts in order to secure space on a general election ballot--that's in addition to the 6 percent statewide threshold that is currently required.
"This is one small effort to try to get those signature-bearers to go out and include some of the rest of us," said Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Terreton. "This allows rural Idaho to participate in this process."
But Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett disputed Siddoway's logic.
"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 Treausure 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. It would be unlikely that petition gatherers would even visit rural legislative districts."
With Idaho voters' fresh memories of turning back Props 1, 2 and 3 in the November general election, SB 1108 sponsor Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie insisted that the measure had nothing to do with last year's voter rejection of the so-called Luna Laws. Instead, he pointed to current efforts to put such issues as medical marijuana and liquor privatization on the ballot.
"These are issues that would affect every community in the state," said McKenzie. "So we should have a mechanism to let them have a say."
Ultimately, McKenzie, Siddoway and 23 other GOP senators voted "aye" for SB 1108 while the Democratic minority was joined by three Republicans, Boise Sen. Cliff Bayer, Coeur d'Alene Sen. Bob Nonini and Dalton Gardens Sen. Steve Vick in voting "no." The measure now heads to the Idaho House for its consideration.