More signatures for ballot initiatives would come from outside urban areas
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that would give farmers and other rural Idahoans more say on proposed ballot initiatives is facing tough scrutiny in the Idaho Legislature but has passed a first hurdle.
The bill, which would require proponents of ballot initiatives and voter referendums to gather signatures outside of only urban areas, is authored by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and supported by Food Producers of Idaho, which includes most of the state's main farm groups.
But it faced tough questioning from a few members of the Senate State Affairs Committee during a public hearing that stretched over three days and was heavily against it and at times contentious. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, the Senate majority leader, chided one person for using what he deemed accusatory language for saying a vote for the bill was a vote for tyranny.
The committee voted 7-2 March 6 to send the bill to the Senate floor with a do-pass recommendation.
Idaho currently requires supporters of proposed ballot initiatives to obtain the signatures of at least 6 percent of registered voters in the state in order to qualify a measure for the ballot.
The bill would require supporters to gather the signatures of at least 6 percent of voters in at least 18 of the state's 35 legislative districts and the total number of signatures would still have to equal at least 6 percent of registered voters statewide.
IFBF lobbyist Russ Hendricks said signature collectors camp out in downtown Boise to gather the vast majority of their signatures and the bill is designed to ensure there is at least a minimal amount of support across a broad section of the state before an initiative qualifies for the ballot.
He noted that it would take only 21 percent of registered voters in Ada County, Idaho's largest county, to meet the current requirement, or 15.5 percent if adjacent Canyon County is included.
A similar bill passed in 1997 that required ballot initiatives to be supported by 6 percent of Idaho voters in at least 22 of the state's 44 counties was struck down by a district court and that ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But Hendricks said the court also wrote that basing any such requirement on legislative districts would be acceptable.
"That's exactly what we're doing with Senate Bill 1108," he said.
The bill was opposed by the nine-member committee's two Democrats, and public testimony was almost all against it.
But Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a Republican sheep rancher from Terreton, liked the idea of giving rural residents more say.
"I don't understand why the people in rural areas don't get a say," he said. "I don't understand why people who shop at Broulim's in St. Anthony aren't every bit as important as the people who shop at Winco in Boise."
Of the 24 states that have ballot initiative processes, 12 have geographic requirements and the requirements in the Idaho bill "would be on the less restrictive side" when compared with the others, said Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise, the committee chairman.