Friday, March 1, 2013

Effort to Restrict Idaho Ballot Referendums Stalls in Senate Committee

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Friday morning, Idaho lawmakers took approximately an hour to consider a measure that would have tightened restrictions on statewide ballot initiatives and referendums. If passed, future referendums would require a larger share of signatures from voters from each of Idaho's 35 legislative districts, instead of garnering the same percentage from the state's entire voting population.

"The purpose of Senate Bill 1108 is to make sure there’s at least a minimal amount of support across the state prior to issuing a referendum or initiative on the ballot," sponsor Russ Hendricks, Southwest Idaho regional manager of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, told the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning.

Hendrick's bill would require signatures of not less than 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho's legislative districts, to equal 6 percent of the number of registered voters statewide. He told the committee his bill followed up on a previous measure passed in 1997, which required a set number of signatures from the counties, but was struck down by the courts.

"Since the year 2000, there have been 54 initiatives and only four succeeded to qualify to come to the ballot," Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett told Hendricks. "And none of those really had any impact on the Farm Bureau. So I guess I’m wondering why this is perceived as being necessary now, and why the bureau is bringing it before us now?"

Hendricks said members of his organization raised concern about the state's growing urban areas, and was just one of a number of organizations looking to follow up on the legislation passed 16 years prior.

Concerns were not only directed at the rural-urban divide, but with setting higher what was described as an already high bar. Monica Hopkins, executive director of the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union, used District 8 as an example, spanning five counties with a small population per square mile and only 29,000 registered voters.

Still some lawmakers, including Terreton Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway, seemed unswayed the bill would tip the scales toward rural voters.

"I still don’t understand why the people in the rural areas don’t get a say, not a bigger say, but an equal say. Why the people who shop at Brolins in St. Anthony aren’t as important as the people who shop at Costco in Boise? Can you help me with that?" Siddoway asked Hopkins.

Ultimately, the committee voted unanimously to move the bill to the amending order of the full Senate to iron out concerns, putting the measure in limbo.

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