BC Idaho State Capitol

Idaho State Capitol

Qualifying a voter initiative for the ballot would require more support from rural communities under a proposal before the Idaho Legislature.

An initiative now qualifies for the general election ballot if it gets signatures from 6% of the registered voters in 18 legislative districts in 18 months, and 6% of the number of registered voters statewide.

Senate Bill 1110 would require signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 districts in 18 months.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Feb. 19, the second day of hearings, voted to send it to the full Senate with a do-pass recommendation.

The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation supports the bill.

“Our members feel it’s important that all areas of the state have the ability to participate in the process,” Governmental Affairs Director Russ Hendricks said.

Farm Bureau members don’t necessarily see the issue as urban-versus-rural, he said. Initiatives would need some support from across the state to qualify for the general election, a benefit to their inherently short vetting process.

“The whole premise behind the bill is inclusivity and making sure everybody in the state has an opportunity to be involved,” Hendricks said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said that under current law, getting signatures from 6% of Idaho voters could be accomplished in four counties that have 18 legislative districts, making the process tilted toward urban areas, The Associated Press reported. Opponents contended the measure would be unconstitutional by making it nearly impossible to qualify an initiative for the ballot and giving veto power to a single district.

Hendricks told Capital Press he disagrees with the notion that one or two districts could “veto” an initiative if SB 1110 becomes law, since that would require opposition or non-participation by 95% of registered voters in a district.

“It’s a lot more plausible that the idea is not a good thing for the citizens of that area,” he said.

Idaho voters in 2018 passed an initiative that expanded Medicaid. Hendricks said it qualified for the ballot in four months, getting signatures from more than 6% of registered voters in all but 8 districts; much more time was available for signature gathering had it been needed.

The Legislature in 2019 passed two initiative-reform bills, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed them over concerns a federal court could rule them unconstitutional and dictate state policy.

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